Monday, 26 March 2012

#40 La'Beth: Apocalypsing Shakespeare

 Hello! Today we’re going to be getting all cultural at Chris Writes About The End Of The World, looking at an adaptation of a play by William Shakespeare (Who you’ll know of as that guy who appeared in Doctor Who that one time. It was the episode with the witch aliens in it).

A theatre company in London has taken the play Macbeth and put on a version of it set in post-apocalyptic Haiti.

Now, I don’t ask much of my readers because, quite frankly, you’re all pretty obstinate and a unhelpful, but I would ask that you all go and see this play, so that it’s a huge success and they put it on again at a time when I can come and see it.

In the mean time, here’s an interview I had with Georgina Sowerby, who directed the play:

So, before we start, without giving away too many spoilers could you explain what this play's about?
This version is about a bunch of women who've survived a massive disaster and created a new colony on a strange island. One of them, La'Beth/MacBeth has secret fantasies about being in charge, so she and her girlfriend murder Du'Cann/Duncan - the woman who rescued and set up the colony in the first place. Bad Move.

A few men have survived in the surrounding jungle-, They were soldiers who committed terrible acts of violence and have since gone feral taking on the magical properties of the forest. La'Beth/MacBeth goes to visit them, partakes of their mystical poisons, has hallucinations and visions of her future. They seem to promise power and she becomes a killing machine. But beware fortune tellers is all I can say!!

I understand that the play is a reboot of an older play set in medieval Scotland. What was it about medieval Scotland that made you think of post-apocalyptic Haiti?
The Scotland the play was written about was a country of violent tribes all vying for power. The original King MacBeth had power for a fair few years - normally you'd get horribly murdered way before that! Also, in the play, a mix of Christian and pagan religions abounds and nature/fate overtakes all best attempts for humans to control their lives.

My initial motivation was to set it in a place that has a history of suffering turmoil and experienced a mixture of military violence and lawlessness, natural disaster. Also to find a place with a fusion of very potent religions and that's an island containing a great mix of cultures .. Some of our key actors have Afro-Carribbean routes and I was interested in playing around with accents and dialects.

Finally... Zombies. There's a massive theme of possession in the play and there's an interesting thought that zombie stories appear in countries/cultures that have been colonised - where the soul of the people has been abused and stolen from them..

In the original play virtually all the characters were male, save Macbeth's wife and three "weird sisters". In your version you say the cast is all female apart from the "weird brothers". Does that include Lady Macbeth- Is Macbeth a lesbian in this version? Whether or not she is- Why did you decide to make these changes? Is it because political correctness is finally, after all this time, going mad?
The play is super macho - its all about maleness and shame and violence and not being a girl.. the only girls are outsider freaks (witches), an ambitious woman who commits suicide (don't get too ambitious girls!), and a pissed off wife who gets murdered (just stop nagging for christ's sake)... Its interesting to hear all this misogyny now coming out of womens' mouths... And yeh, there's a couple of lesbian angles going on in it - some of the characters would have been gay before the disaster and some of them have been thrown on each other, so to speak.. But mostly I wanted to build this idea of a tight community and the risk maccers takes in wrecking it.

Given the changes you've made to the setting and the characters, have you had to make any changes to the actual text? Will this be a verbatim version of Shakespeare's play, or have you had to make a few rewrites?
We've rewritten some of it - We worked with this amazing writer called Brenda Garrick who's parents are from the Domenican Republic and she's redone all the witches stuff and a bit of the Porter.. I'd have her do more because its brilliant and so lively! But for that we need to raise more funds: its a hell of a lot of work! Plus I changed all the 'he's' to 'she's' and some of the character titles ('sir' becomes 'girl' or 'sis' - 'kinsman' becomes 'woman' - 'lord' becomes 'love' etc) I think it really works - purists will turn in their graves... or walk out of the auditoreum.. Shakespeare however, won't give a shit!!!

Tell us a bit about your cast. Are they all prima donnas who insist on elaborate riders for their dressing rooms? Any huge clashing egos during rehearsals?
There are big egos but they are very motivated by the project. Plus we've worked hard to create an environment which is creative and supportive. It helps having a few males I must say (something about donkeys in the stable;-)?) We do have the fabulous Nikki Kelly who played Sylvia in Hi-di-Hi as our porter. She is very game and a one-off - she's given us some good laughs and laughter is very very important when you're messing with a monster of a play like this!

What's been the highlight of putting the play together?
Seeing something I thought I knew in a totally fresh and dynamic way - thinking things just couldn't work and being surprised when they did. Also seeing Nikki Kelly going into full splits and ripping the arse out of her trousers will remain with me for the rest of time.

And the biggest challenge?
The bloody short time frame!

Finally, let's assume La Beth 2012 is a massive critical and financial success, to the point where you get completely typecast and are only allowed to make sci-fi retellings of Shakespeare plays. What play would you do next, and where would you set it?
I am quite obsessed by having dead characters walk on stage, emerge from under the earth, crawl out of suitcases (see some photos on my website Maybe A Midsummer Nights Dream where the lovers fall down rabbit holes and go underground when they get lost in the forest - kinda Pan's Labyrinth style lost amongst the roots of trees... maybe keep with Blighty this time but create a site-specific event where we take the audience under the earth. Anyone know of any potential locations? You got me thinking now!

And one more question (I lied about the finally). As a rule we ask everyone we interview what their zombie survival plan is- so what is it?
This is my single motivating factor for learning to drive.(*books BSM*) Wait a minute aren't they already here? Marxist revolution - start with Cameron/Landsley and Osbourne...  I'm sharpening heavy instruments...  Hang on, how do i know you're not one of them?- I shouldn't be telling you this - now you know my plan... there's someone at the door... aaaaaaarrrrrrrghgghghghghghghghghghghg...

La'Beth is on at the John Lyon Theatre from March 29th to March 31st, you can see their blog here. You can also follow them on twitter.

Friday, 9 March 2012

#39 Gay Marriage: The End of Civilisation

So there’s been a lot of argument kicked up this week on the subject of gay marriage, mainly following an interview and piece in the Telegraph by Catholical cardinal Keith O’Brian, no relation to Richard O’Brien. Keith has upset a lot of people, by comparing the introduction of gay marriage to a return to the slave trade, and by failing to reach a Key Stage 3 level of reading comprehension by being unable to tell the difference between “Men and women have the right to marry” and “Marriage is defined as between a man and a woman”.

O’Brian and his ilk are being left pretty much out in the cold on this one in the UK. First David Cameron, leader of the party that brought Section 28 in all those years ago, is backing gay marriage. Secondly, a survey by a leading market research company has shown 61% of Christians now support gay marriage, results which Richard Dawkins has chosen to interpret as meaning all those people aren’t really Christians, because that’s helpful. Thanks Dick.

Now I’ve been openly bisexual for coming up to half my life, and always hoped that when I met the person I wanted to marry their gender wouldn’t be a legal factor. A few years ago I was extremely proud to be a best man at a civil partnership blessing in a Quaker church, an event which everyone called a Wedding, and ever since we have all referred to that couple as married.

I’m telling you this because I want you to know where I’m coming from when I say that the current opposition to gay marriage isn’t homophobic, and sadly, it’s right. Because recognising gay marriage in this country or elsewhere will bring about the end of civilisation as we know it.

Let’s begin by addressing my first point, surely O’Brian, former Arch Bishop of Canterbury George Carey and, on the other side of the pond, Rick Santorum, hate gays, that’s why they want to stop us from marrying, right? But let’s look at the language they’re using.
They aren’t calling us fags, or talking about how we’re going to burn in hell, or pointing out how when they see two men kiss it makes them feel funny in their tummy and it’s totally gross. Not once have any of them mentioned how much we love to eat the poo poo. If they were using arguments like that, we could all immediately tell they were being homophobic, and then it would be safe to ignore them.

But let’s look at what they’re actually saying. The Coalition for Marriage says “There’s no need to redefine marriage”. Keith O’Brian says “...this proposal is not about rights, but rather is an attempt to redefine marriage for the whole of society at the behest of a small minority of activists” and worries that “the teacher who wants to tell pupils that marriage can only mean – and has only ever meant – the union of a man and a woman” will be called a “heretic” (and when a senior member of the Catholic church starts worrying about people being labelled as heretics, something serious is going down). This piece by the Christian Institute claims a survey showed 70% of people are against redefining marriage. Rick Santorum, who knows a thing or two about redefinition, has said “The Judiciary cannot create life, and it did not create marriage, and it has no right to redefine either one.”

At this point things should be becoming clear to you. This isn’t about adherence to an extremely literal interpretation of a flawed translation of an ancient religious text. This isn’t even about the fact that some people have sex with their bums, and that’s icky. I’m revealing here, now, that the campaign against gay marriage is a front for an ancient brotherhood. Let me make it absolutely clear. When I first started to suspect, I drew an ancient tome from my bookshelf. There I found the words:

marriage n. 1. Condition of man and woman legally united for purpose of living together and usu. procreating lawful offspring; act or ceremony or procedure establishing this condition;”

That tome was the 1964 edition of The Concise Oxford Dictionary. Do you see now? The real masterminds behind the anti-gay marriage lobby?

The Lexicographers

Language is expanding at an incredible rate, and these brave men and women are barely keeping up with the neologisms, and we want them to go back and redo the words they’ve already finished? And bear in mind, this isn’t the first time that lovers of man-on-man or woman-on-woman action have done this to the Lexicographers.

Once upon a time, as confused old people never hesitate to remind us, “gay” just meant “happy”. “Batty boy” just meant “Boy who looks kind of like a bat” and Sodom was just a town’s name!
"We're gonna need to rewrite a shit load of dictionaries after this..."
Is it really that much of a surprise that that Lexicographers are striking back? And if we force them to redefine this last word, say to something long-winded and politically correct like “a social union or legal contract between people that creates kinship”, they will snap, and strike back at us where it hurts, our language.

This is how our civilisation will end. We’re looking at a nuclear winter of redefinitions. Soon, egregious will mean abstract. Triangular will mean purple. Pineapple will mean Tuesday. The Lexicographers will rip the guts out of our language, so that words lose all meaning and it becomes impossible to have a sensible, rational discourse on any subject.

You need only look at the opposition to gay marriage to see it’s already started to happen.

Thursday, 1 March 2012

#38 Five Zombie Movies You Can Watch in Your Lunch Break

A few decades ago George A Romero made an indie horror film on a shoestring budget and changed horror movies forever. If you look at indie horror movies no, you’re going to see quite a few zombie and post-apocalyptic movies among them.

There are plenty of reasons why the post-apocalypse is appealing to film makers without much in the way of cash. Your cast doesn’t have to be that large, on account of most of the people on the planet being dead. Sets aren’t much of a problem either - any construction site, quarry, disused warehouse or high street early enough on a Sunday morning can be made to look like the aftermath of civilisation without a lot of effort. Likewise, when it comes to special effects, you can get your zombie horde with just an economy tub of fake blood.

We’ve looked at horror shorts before, such as Contact, Zombies and Cigarettes and that Lynx advert, and sooner or later we’re going to be taking a look at my acting debut in Alexander Gordon Smith’s zombie short, Sola Gratia.

But here’s a grab bag of some other post-apocalyptic shorts, all on youtube, and all under 15 minutes in length. With careful application of headphones you should be able to watch these from your desk at work, and still have time to go buy and sandwich and use the loo before your lunch break is over.

Romero Zombie Movies

One of the things I secretly love about zombie movies, particularly ones that follow the Romero rules, is the idea that all these stories could be happening at pretty much the same time. There’s strong, geeky appeal in the idea that a bunch of stories take place in the same universe, whether it’s the Star Wars expanded universe, Star Trek, Stephen King’s version of Maine or the theory that pretty much all of TV is a dream in a snow globe being stared at by the autistic kid in St. Elsewhere. So yes, while Night of the Living Dead takes place in the 60s, Dawn of the Dead is overwhelmingly 70s and Shaun of the Dead has people running around with mobile phones, I still like the idea that while Shaun and his buddies are holed up in The Winchester Barbra, Ben and co are trying to fortify their isolated farmhouse.

Zombie shorts are great for this, as they tell smaller, isolated stories about the apocalypse, usually shortly before their characters all die horribly.

I Am Lonely

This short, whose title is probably an homage to I Am Legend, is a great example of how a zero budget production can make use of the zombie apocalypse. The majority of the film takes place with one guy sitting on a sofa, talking to his dead flatmate. It’s a small, sitcommy piece, which is appropriate, since sitcoms and zombie movies are both built around the set up of a bunch of people thrown together, who hate each other.

I Love Sarah Jane

Not a Doctor Who spin-off. This film only features the one zombie, chained up in a back garden. Mainly it’s a story about a kid’s first crush, but it also returns to the recurrent zombie theme that when you have a bunch of people you can horribly, violently murder without legal or moral consequences, it doesn’t bring about the best in us.

Videogame Fan Films

Videogames loves themselves some apocalypse, as we’ve covered before and no doubt will again. The stories in these games are usually told through graffiti, carefully arranged tableaus that players run screaming past or try to shoot, and diaries that have been written and then inexplicably spread over hundreds of square miles. This leaves quite a few gaps for budding film makers to fill in, and rich background histories for them to exploit, and the weird thing is that these films often have great production values, despite the fact that the film makers can’t make any money off their creations without getting themselves sued.

Beyond Black Mesa

When you’re playing the Half Life games you can’t help but feel that there’s a huge back story that’s been written down somewhere, but which no-one has actually got around to telling you. This short continues in that tradition, without much dialogue aside from the voice-over, given by a character from the original Half-Life’s first add-on pack, Opposing Force (Kids- add-on packs are what we used to call DLC). What the short lacks in detailed plot and character, it makes up for with some truly kick-ass fight sequences and amazing special effects. It’s also a good demonstration of how the crowbar is the most badass weapon across the entire Half-Life franchise.

Fallout: Nuka Break

Okay, there aren’t really any zombies here, only ghouls that, while dead and gorified, are also sentient and non-brain-eating. Instead, it’s the story of post-apocalyptic wasteland survivors bickering, shooting people and hunting for soft drinks. They’ve got Fallout’s dark sense of humour down nicely, and have actually gone on to build a whole web series around their characters. It’s worth watching the lot (although this may take several lunch breaks), particularly if you want a Firefly-esque mix of banter, shady dealings and gunfights.

And One Film That Doesn’t Actually Have Any Zombies In It At All

Okay, this film doesn’t have anything even a bit like zombies in, but as its one of the bleakest apocalypse stories I’ve seen so I want to include it anyway:


Seriously, this film makes The Road look like a heart warming tale of optimism and fluffy bunnies. Not content with mere zombies or nuclear fallout, this film is set in a world where the very air has become toxic. Featuring zero dialogue, it’s short, brutal, and adequately shows what complete shits we can be when our own survival is at stake.

Now I'm not normally one to demand people fill in the comments on here- But if you know of any good post-apocalyptic shorts I've missed, please do let me know below.