Performing Pontypool?

A review of Tony Burgess’ Pontypool radio drama script (Playwrights Canada Press, 2015).
By Derek Newman-Stille

I should start out by noting that the 2009 film Pontypool by Tony Burgess and Bruce McDonald is one of my favourite films, so I was extremely excited to hear from a colleague, Cat Ashton, that Tony Burgess had written a radio drama version of the story. Admittedly, I didn’t enjoy Tony Burgess’ novel Pontypool Changes Everything upon which both the film and the radio drama were based, but I was impressed by the radio drama and its potential for performance. I have directed and performed radio dramas in the past, and therefore took a look at the script both for its literary quality and its performability. 

The characters in this radio drama were rich and complex, with intentions that could be sketched out through their dialogue, but they also allowed a lot of room for actors to bring out the complexities of these characters and add their own voices and perspectives.

The setting for the play allows a lot of potential for it to be performed. Since all of it takes place in a radio station, and most of it occurs in the sound booth, a lot of the complexities of space and setting changes are unnecessary. 

I should mention that my first day on the air occurred after watching the 2009 Pontypool and it heightened my experience of being in a sound studio, watching the various dials change, my voice oscillating on the screen, and adjusting dials to the performance of sound. I couldn’t help but think of myself as inside of the film. Performing Pontypool on air could increase this potential, letting the radio drama performers feel the setting of the station influence their delivery of their lines. 

Pontypool is a radio drama about the power of language to turn people into zombies. It is an outbreak story, situated in the small Ontario town of Pontypool where certain words in the English language have become contaminated, and where these words are spreading, transforming people into zombies who seek out voices and infect the host. It is a play that is about the power of words and the power of the radio for spreading words like viruses The play makes the reader hyper aware of the way that they are speaking and understanding language, allowing the reader to feel the potential of being infected by the words they are seeing on the page (or, if it is performed, the words they are hearing). There is a sense of danger about reading the script, a feeling that one’s mind, one’s language is potentially dangerous.

It is a play that evokes the concern that even our inquisitive nature is a danger to us because the star of the play, shock jock radio host Grant Mazzy perceives it to be important to investigate and share information about the virus even after he realizes that speaking in any way would allow the virus to spread. He has to balance his need to deliver news… with the fact that the delivery system (him) is contaminated. 

This is an infectious play, one that needles its way into your brain and invites you to keep contemplating it, keep questioning it, even as you realize that the content of the play is telling you that investigating and contemplating can be infectious.

To dicover more about the Pontypool radio drama, visit http://www.playwrightscanada.com/pontypool.html .

Only More Death on the Horizon

A review of Tony Burgess’ The n-Body Problem (ChiZine Publications, 2013)
By Derek Newman-Stille

Cover photo of The n-Body Problem courtesy of ChiZine Publications

Cover photo of The n-Body Problem courtesy of ChiZine Publications

Tony Burgess’ The n-Body Problem is a pharmacological journey through the zombie apocalypse, and a discourse on the collective social habit of avoiding one’s problems. The n-Body Problem explores a world where people keep moving after death, not threateningly or aggressively, but moving nonetheless evoking the question of whether they are alive, what constitutes death, and the bigger problem of what to do with so many moving bodies. WasteCorp, a waste disposal company proposes the idea of launching the living dead into orbit, suspending them in the atmosphere until they burn off as layers of fire, and they are able to do good enough PR work to convince people that this is an almost romantic way to go. The only problem is that the sky is greyed by the network of dead bodies around the Earth and it is creating health issues for the people alive on the planet – both from lack of exposure to the sunlight and from the depression that comes from seeing a network of the dead around their planet every time they raise their eyes. It is a zombie apocalypse filled with threat, but not from the zombies… at least not directly, but rather from the “solution” to the living dead and the horror that ensues.

In order to cope, the population is advised to avoid looking up and to regularly take SSRIs to deal with the perpetual depression and anxiety evoked by this permanently altered world. However, the SSRIs are not benevolent either, causing a Syndrome from the quantities they need to be used in, fundamentally changing the people who use them.

The characters have their moral compass set to grey from the beginning of The n-Body Problem but a dark, dirty grey that gets more ashy over time as layers of dust from bodies burned in orbit rains down on them… a zombie grey that exists in the perpetual twilight of a world that no longer has hope of change.

Playing with ideas of speech and silence, the notion that some people are best left in a devoiced state because when they speak it may only be a diatribe of horrors, Burgess explores the power of voice for propaganda, and the way the silenced are used for religious, corporate, and political causes. Whether corporate propaganda tells the people about the beauty of their dead loved ones floating in silence in orbit close to the stars, or religious leaders use the dead and the dismembered to bring on religious fervour born of fear and a need for some form of change, silence is made to speak loudly.

Burgess experiments with the idea of a social shift from the military-industrial complex and its profit from death through war to a new system of profit based around the pharmaceutical-waste-disposal-religious complex, intertwined in a system of making capital through the disposal of bodies and inciting people to suicide.

To say this is a bleak book is to downplay the significance of the melancholy it evokes – within this novel, the only thing on the horizon is more dead bodies… literally. It is a stream of consciousness narrative that reads like a hallucinatory voyage between pathologies and syndromes, a work that makes the body and the world around it a perpetual uncertainty, a slippery, threatened and threatening thing.

To find out more about The n-Body Problem, visit ChiZine Publications’ site at http://chizinepub.com/books/n-body-problem

Speculating Canada on Trent Radio Episode 1: Canadian Zombie Fiction

In many American zombie narratives, people escape the zombie apocalypse by crossing the border into Canada. Is it our health care? Is it the cold? Is it the maple syrup? Whatever it is, American zombies don’t seem to like us very well… so, Canadians have created our own zombie fiction and we do something a little bit different with our zombies.

This first radio show of the season explores the history of the zombie narrative then delves into some examples of Canadian zombie narratives and explores the potential for the zombie to ask social questions of us as readers.

Listen to a discussion of:

The film Pontypool by Tony Burgess and Bruce McDonald

Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s collection Dead North: Canadian Zombie Fiction, and particularly the stories “And All The Fathomless Crowds” by Ada Hoffmann and “The Herd” by Tyler Keevil.

Corey Redekop’s novel Husk.

James Marshall’s novels Ninja Versus Pirate Featuring Zombies and Zombie Versus Fairy Featuring Albinos.

Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s short story “Cemetery Man”

and

Claude Lalumiere’s short story “The Ethical Treatment of Meat”

Click on the link to hear about how Canadian zombie fiction can comment on everything from the media, violence, the human as monster, social performances, the education system, depression, war, and animal rights.

Explore Trent Radio at www.trentradio.ca

Explore Trent Radio at http://www.trentradio.ca

This audio file was originally broadcast on Trent Radio, and I would like to thank Trent Radio for their continued support.

Make sure to allow a few minutes for the file to buffer since it may take a moment before it begins to play.