It was early January when I received the invitation. Did I fancy taking a trip into a sub Arctic central London to sit under a dank railway arch beneath Waterloo Station, while the trains packed with the city’s departing commuters rumbled overhead? As if I needed to be asked twice when there was post apocalyptic comedy from DeadPlant Theatre along with a live heavy metal band in The Milkman Cometh, one of the standout shows of the capital’s annual Vault Festival.
The theatre spaces at the Vault are ideally suited to fringe horror performances. A graffiti sprayed underpass leads to the tunnel that takes us deep into the maze of spaces beneath one of London’s busiest railway stations. It’s dark, damp and the air is slightly musty as you queue by the doors to access the individual vaulted chambers. As we enter the space we are offered ear plugs, Since 1974 when at Charlton FC’s ground, The Who, Bad Company and Humble Pie ripped apart my metal virginity what remains of my hearing will have been irreparably damaged by 45 years of mayhem, so I politely decline the offer and take my seat along the wall. With the band limbering up on the stage the performance space will be the gangway down the middle of the auditorium. It’s going to be an intimate night for both performers and audience. So imagine if you can a subterranean mash up of Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, M Night Shylaman’s The Village, The Blood on Satan’s Claw and The Wicker Man only written by The League of Gentleman, and accompanied by brutal Tony Iommi inspired riffing and you are almost there with me. Just stir in a whole bunch of milky euphemisms and cheesy gags into a mix populated by bizarre situations and even stranger characters and we were set up for an hour of seriously deranged surreal madness that had the audience literally rocking in their seats with laughter.
This was my second experience of DeadPlant theatre, having first encountered their madcap blend of dark surreal horror, complete with some of the sickest gags known to mankind combined with extremely gory splatterstick physical clowning at 2017’s London Horror Festival. Having loved the ‘cult’ comedy of The Service as much as The Milkman Cometh I was keen to get to find out more about what makes the company tick, so I was delighted to get the opportunity to chat with DeadPlant’s Bounce and find out how they got it all together.
‘We all met whilst touring together as actors.’ Bounce told me: ‘We had the best time living in each other’s pockets for months at a time, and still found each other hilarious at the end of it. So we wanted to find a way to keep working together. Since we all share a macabre sense of humour and the love of a good pun, writing together is actually really easy and fun. We spend all day laughing and drinking beer.
Our main influence is most definitely The League Of Gentlemen. I love the appallingly dark characters, and the way they marry laugh out loud disgusting moments with real pathos. As a company we definitely compete to see who can look the most hideous on stage, I normally win. The monobrow and brown teeth do it.’
Going back to 2017 when Bounce and her companions tore the roof of the Old Red Lion Theatre’s black room with The Service as FacePlant Theatre, I was curious to find out why they had changed their name. ‘ After our incestuous horror The Service’ Bounce replied; ‘the next show we wrote was a super sweet family friendly frolic about rubber ducks. Then we got a bit paranoid that mums would be researching the kids show on the internet only to find pictures of us gleefully pulling out each others intestines instead. It would be a branding nightmare. So we decided to split the company, with FacePlant Theatre representing all the PG stuff, and DeadPlant Theatre for all the adult content’.
The Service was a splendidly dark and surreal comedy about a religious cult, complete with multiple incest, confessions on sacred cabbages, what I hope were fake bodily fluids and one of the most disgustingly funny gags I have ever experienced in a theatrical performance, I wondered what had inspired Bounce and DeadPlant to create the show.
‘I’ve always been fascinated by cults. I love watching documentaries on them, they always seem quite appealing at first until it all goes wrong. I’m pretty sure I’ll end up in one at some point. One of the most exciting things about live theatre is being able to directly address the audience, and so we decided to make the audience experience the show as if they were new recruits to the religious movement.’
I recalled how we all had to sign a disclaimer when joining the Church of the Ray of Light as we entered the theatre that evening and how there were just enough drinks lined up in paper cups for the entire crowd. ‘There was lots of audience participation, lots of confessing sins and ridiculous hymns.’ Bounce resumed; ‘ We pride ourselves on creating the most revolting jokes, and its so wonderful to be able to look directly into the eyes of the audience and hear them audibly groan whilst you are being really gross and covered in each others bodily fluids.’
Moving on to The Milkman Cometh where DeadPlant transport us into a post-apocalyptic future presented the team with a whole new world of possibilities ; ‘Post apocalyptic worlds are really fun to play around with, because anything goes. As a writer it’s the best setting as there’s absolutely no rules. People can be put in incredible situations and do unbelievable things to survive’.
‘The play is set in a not too distant, bleak and milkless future. In a bid to combat climate change, the powers that be have decided to burn the all the farting cows. This of course goes hideously wrong; the fires burn out of control, and nearly wipe out humanity all together. Our heroine is a badass biker, who arrives in the village of Cud seeking fellow survivors and shelter. But this village is inhabited by a band of mason-like milky brothers and it is full of dark secrets. For they still have a milkman, and the milk still cometh. Full of gender twists our heroine will stop at nothing to beat the pasteurised patriarchy.’
‘It’s a surreal and nightmarish fable for the ages, exploring the damaging effect cattle farming has had on our environment and highlighting the horrors of the dairy industry.’
‘Of course the thing that separates The Milkman Cometh from every other show at this year’s Vault Festival is Fuck Slurry, the live heavy metal band that provide the show’s very loud musical score, Bounce told us how this came about; ‘I’m actually dating the bass player! I went to one of Fuck Slurry’s gigs, and mid headbang I had an epiphany that it would be amazing if they could play the live score for our next show. My favourite horror films have really iconic music throughout, recently I went to see Goblin play the Suspiria soundtrack live, and I thought it would be really exciting to try and recreate that in a live theatre show. Metal and horror go so well together. A live band makes everything so much better, even just moving set props around the stage felt badass when done to a metal riff. Fuck Slurry were so good as well, they really got into the acting aspect, Pete the guitarist asked what his motivation was at one point!
‘I’ve seen theatre shows with live music before, but its normally pretty folky gentle stuff, nothing like Fuck Slurry! The venue manager came round and said we were way above legal noise levels, so we had to hand out ear plugs. Not very rock n roll.’
True, but I don’t think many of us in the audience actually used them, Bounce continued ‘We got great responses from the audience, and great reviews.’
‘Our ultimate goal is to turn The Milkman Cometh script into a movie screenplay, I think it would make such a good horror film. It is a very cinematic show that would lend itself really well to the big screen. I don’t think I’ll be cast as the 12 year old virgin girl in the film version though, you can get away with a bit more in theatre! First we’re going develop the script into a radio play or podcast. I think it would work really well with all the music interluding the action, and as a stepping-stone towards making the movie version it might help drum up interest from the right people.
‘As well as developing the film and radio script, we’d also like to get some more bookings to perform The Milkman Cometh, it’s so much fun to perform we’d all love to do it again. Plus we’ll start writing our new show soon, we have some interesting ideas!
I bet they do and I will be watching DeadPlant’s progress with great interest over the next couple of years. I agree The Milkman Cometh would make a tremendously funny horror comedy film with the right budget and cast. Do catch them live if you possibly can.