Stephen G. Large, Jingle All The DLA interview
By Conor O’Neill
Stephen G. Large’s plays have been regular names at theatre box offices these five plus years. Not only that but his books have been big sellers on the Amazon best seller’s lists, and his fictional Dundonald Liberation Army Facebook page boasts some 46,000 loyal followers.
CultureCrush NI caught up with the playwright, author and satirist to find out about his latest offering, a Zoom Christmas broadcast called Jingle All The DLA. This interview with Large, following the usual theatre chat, goes off on tangents bordering on the maniacal, including 5G, Bill Gates, conspiracy theories, Lady Gaga’s drinking habits, Bob Geldolf and finally a surprisingly honest Christmas message to his legion of followers.
Read on and enjoy!
Well, Stephen, how are you keeping?
“Pretty good, thankfully, I haven’t got coronavirus!”
Covid was a creeper, we were originally told it would be a simple three week lockdown with not much to worry about. What were your thoughts artistically as things progressed? I assume you had a live Christmas theatre play in mind beforehand, did you think things would turn out as they have?
“I think there was a lot of uncertainty at the time. I was hoping to get out a Christmas show this year. I had a couple of things already written. Just before we went into lockdown I had signed with David Hull Promotions and they were in the process of contacting theatres about a potential Christmas show; I had also been in talks with the Opera House about a show in 2021, but obviously do they not only have to fulfil all of the shows from this year but also next year’s so it’s obviously had an impact on that. Ultimately I didn’t think I’d be doing a Christmas show because nowhere is doing anything, and even the show we were in talks about is pretty much dead in the water as a result of Covid. They basically just said they wouldn’t be taking on more shows until they’d fulfilled their programme.”
The Christmas show you had in mind, was it Carol’s Christmas or was it a new one?
“Well, I had that one up my sleeve which I hoped would go on but I also had a couple of wee ideas; I had a plan A, B and C. I had redrafted Carol’s Christmas and wouldn’t have minded seeing it on stage again but it just wasn’t to be. Covid has impacted me but there are people who have lost their jobs, people who have lost loved ones, so in the grand scheme of things, me not getting a Christmas show pales into insignificance compared to what people have had to endure since this kicked off. It’s been an incredibly mental year.”
Jingle All The DLA is to be a Zoom broadcast, what are the logistics in bringing theatre to that format, I’m sure it’s a lot cheaper, can you explain how it works?
“Well, there’s not really a lot of scope here for what you can do. Initially what we were going to do was shoot it in my house and the two DLA guys – Davy ‘The Venezuelan’ Taylor played by Matthew McElhinney and John ‘Horse’ McCracken played by Matthew Forsythe – were going to be isolating together over Christmas, but with further restrictions that simply couldn’t happen. It was actually Mathew McElhinney’s suggestion that we could record it as a Zoom call and I thought that was a brilliant idea because it’s very relevant to this year.
“Nobody had really heard of Zoom before the pandemic and now it’s just part of everyone’s life. I’ve been in seven hour long meetings with the BBC and meetings in regards to this play. It’s become part of everyone’s life, so we thought that having it in that format would be relevant. People are becoming used to it now but at the start we had all the teething problems; people not being able to operate the cameras, having bother with the mics, talking over each other, so we decided to incorporate some of that and make it part of the comedy. Matthew McElhinney will be editing it and it’ll be launched on the DLA You Tube channel, we’ll post a link on the DLA Facebook on Christmas day at 9pm.
“We chose Christmas day because generally everyone is at home, especially this year. At 9pm everyone will be sitting on the sofa in a food coma and there’ll probably be the same three or four Christmas shows on so hopefully we can give them an alternative.”
As a writer was/is the lockdown a curse or a blessing? I saw on Facebook you were writing away, did you feel it was an opportunity to write like hell or did procrastination set in?
“The first month was just a gigantic piss-up. There was nothing open apart from the offies and the weather was great. I was off work so every time a sunbeam came through the blinds I was like, ‘Ahh, time to crack open a beer’, but there’s only so much of that you can endure. After that I thought, ‘I suppose I should put this time to better use’. I started working on a lot of things, a screenplay which is a sequel to Normal Lives. I do a lot of content for Paddy Power’s social media and that was a strange one because I’m there to lampoon sports stories but all sports were cancelled. I thought, ‘Maybe these guys aren’t going to need me’ but it was actually the opposite. In the absence of sport they were asking me to make stuff up so that kept me occupied, as did the movie script and trying to churn out content for the DLA social media page, plus I was writing the Christmas show.
“If I had got to the end of the lockdown in July and hadn’t written a thing I would’ve been fucking raging with myself. I’m glad I finally used the time wisely.”
The people who are familiar with Davy ‘The Venezuelan’ Taylor and John ‘Horse’ McCracken, either from the book or the play will know the characters and immediately know the craic, was there any new type of writing to introduce the pair to a new audience?
“You know, it could basically be any two mates having a chat on Zoom, it’s just during lockdown. Davy thinks Coronavirus is just a big hoax and is one of those who thinks it’s a big Bill Gates conspiracy. In order to prove that he decides to lick the toilet seat in a well known Belfast night spot and shortly after starts to develop symptoms. He ends up self-isolating in his flat on Christmas eve awaiting the result of his Covid test; Horse gives him a call to cheer him up as he knows Davy will be spending Christmas alone. They discuss 2020, Coronavirus and how it’s effected everyone’s lives, they discuss Christmas both old and modern, materialism and Christianity.”
I could never have imagined those two having such depth. I’m not saying you don’t have depth as a writer but it baffles me to even imagine such a conversation.
“Davy’s getting stuck into everything, Christmas, Christianity and how it’s just another big spoof. They’re having this big discussion while waiting on Davy’s result and at the end we get the result.”
In the synopsis on the Facebook page I read Horse is also waiting on a test result. You’ve been very coy about that. I’d hate to draw a spoiler but…
“Yes, he’s also waiting on a test result but you’ll have to watch the show to find out.”
None of the Facebook advertising has mentioned money to be paid to watch the show. The Dundonald Liberation Army Facebook page has 46,000 followers; theatres and creatives across the country are on their knees financially, surely you could have made a few quid from this. Why give it away for free?
“Basically whenever we went into the initial lockdown I decided to let people download free versions of my books that are on Amazon, that was just to give people something to do, give them something to laugh about and cheer them up. In terms of this, I suppose I could have charged people but there’s no particular reason for it. It’s not that I’m in a financial situation where money is not a concern but I think that in trying to reach a broader audience with this is a bit of an experiment. The show lasts 30 minutes so it’ll be interesting to see the stats afterwards, to see how many will stay from start to finish.
“I’ve certainly never done anything like this before, so let’s see if it works and if it does it may be something we’ll continue. I don’t mind putting on a show for nothing but obviously the actors don’t want to be doing something for the good of their health all of the time. Essentially there may be a way to monetarise it down the line. I think the important thing is to put the show on and see if it works.”
How do you see theatre after this pandemic? Do You think the blueprint of theatre post Covid will be changed forever?
“I really don’t know but theatre will be changed due to Coronavirus. I can’t see how sustainable a model of social distancing inside a theatre would work. As far as I’m aware shows need to sell 70% of tickets just to break even. If they’re running on 30% capacity due to social distancing it’s just not going to be sustainable. It really depends on what happens moving forward. If this vaccine is a success and life returns to some sort of semblance of normality and everyone is allowed to sit in theatres, it will continue as it did previously.
“One of the factors is the government just doesn’t value the arts, what was that quote? ‘People need to retrain’? What else would you expect from those posh, privileged twats?
You mentioned The Venezuelan thinking it’s all a conspiracy theory with chem trails, Bill Gates etc. What’s your thoughts on the conspiracy theories?
“I like a good conspiracy theory myself, and I think it’s a good quality to question things because as history has proven, governments aren’t 100% truthful, so I can understand why people question things, but I just think it’s become a nonsense now. There is so much misinformation out there and with You Tube and all that, they’re watching You Tube videos and falling down rabbit holes. The best one I’ve heard is that Bill Gates is planting microchips in this vaccine he’s coming up with and then he’s going to activate his 5G masts and be able to mind control us using the 5G and the microchip.
“I mean, it’s absolute fucking bullshit. I do think people shouldn’t take things at face value, it’s normal to question things but it’s gone completely over the top now. People are saying Lady Gaga gargles baby’s blood and Tom Hanks is a peado, it’s nonsense. The earth isn’t flat, we did land on the moon , Lady Gaga does not drink baby’s blood and 5G will simply make your phone run quicker.”
Sure they know everything about us anyway, through our Google history, what we post on social media, where we are due to our phones etc.
“You’ve got people voluntarily uploading every bowel movement they’ve had on social media, walking around with a GPS activated phone voluntarily, constantly updating their social media and then saying they don’t want people tracking their movements, it’s just complete and utter bullshit. It’s just a complete contradiction. It’s becoming quite alarming just how easily brainwashed some people are.”
Stephen, one last question I didn’t send through in my email. What’s your Christmas message for DLA fans and people who will see the show on Christmas night?
After a brief spate of laughs Large says: “You’re trying to make me look like Bob fucking Geldof here…”
I’m not asking for the Queen’s speech!
“The DLA Christmas message… I just don’t want any of the people who follow my page saying ‘2021 is going to be my year’. People are saying, ‘Come at me 2020’, so let’s just agree that 2021 can come to us at its own pace. Have a good Christmas and I know it’s going to be a difficult time, people are going to be self-isolating or shielding vulnerable people. It’s going to be difficult but I think it couldn’t get much worse unless Bono releases a fucking song or something, that would be the cherry on the cake of 2020!”
Jingle All The DLA is on the DLA YouTube page at 9pm December 25th. Simply follow the DLA Facebook page and follow the link available.