After relocating to the oldest working men’s club in Britain (The Holbeck in Leeds), the adventurous team at Slung Low established the Leeds People’s Theatre Company. While they still run a traditional members’ bar, the remainder of the building is an open development space for artists created, says Slung Low’s artistic director Alan Lane, as “a dedicated division for large-scale professional arts projects” with “communities at the heart of them participating in, and with, professional artists and creative teams, offering an opportunity to learn, gain more experience or simply be part of a community”.
Earlier this month saw the premiere of the first production of several planned projects with the free online streaming of their new short film The Good Book by James Phillips, whose previous collaborations with Slung Low have been appropriately ambitious and innovative while his McQueen: or Lee and Beauty, about Alexander McQueen, broke box office records at St James Theatre in London before transferring to the West End.
The Good Book, which runs for a tight but rewarding 30 minutes, is set in “a future Leeds”, where society is divided between loyalists of the powerful Queen Bear and radical followers of Galahad. Avalon (played by Riana Duce) is a young woman desperate not to take sides but, as civil war begins, she must undertake a dangerous mission to rescue a precious relic from destruction even as mobs burn books and betray their neighbours.
It’s another foray into James Phillips’ future dystopia first experienced in The White Whale at Leeds Dock in 2013, continued in 2014 with Slung Low and Sheffield Theatres’ outdoor co-production Camelot: The Shining City (featuring a cast of 150), and last seen as a centre-piece of Hull UK City of Culture 2017’s performance programme with the four-part epic, Flood, which comprised two live plays, a 30-minute play commissioned for BBC Television and a short film.
“It’s an incredible privilege to make another piece of work with the brilliant Slung Low, especially to be able to do that in Leeds, and to have a chance to step deeper into the world we created with Camelot: The Shining City,” says Phillips. The project also involves invited actors including Angus Imrie (Josh on The Archers) and Katie Eldred, along with more than 100 members of the local Leeds community.
“We believe that access to culture is a fundamental part of a happy life. We believe that actions, however small, can have a big impact. We believe that culture can change our world for the better,” maintains Lane, uncompromisingly, and it’s worth noting that all work presented at The Holbeck is ‘pay what you decide’ while company equipment and vehicles are routinely loaned to those who have need.
“It is a useful place that shares its resources with those artists who need them,” comments Lane, adding that even the building plays a valuable supporting role in the film.
The Good Book is available to stream online for free here.