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‘We are on the Brink of a Nuclear Armageddon’: An Interview with Producer Simon Moorhead
Image Credit: CTBTO
‘We are on the Brink of a Nuclear Armageddon’: An Interview with Producer Simon Moorhead

‘We are on the Brink of a Nuclear Armageddon’: An Interview with Producer Simon Moorhead

5 May 2017 | Laura Garmeson

As superpower tensions escalate around the world, the threat of nuclear war is starting to creep back into the collective consciousness. Here we talk to producer Simon Moorhead about his new play, 'Protect and Survive', named after the public information series on civil defence created by the British government during the cold war. Expect an apocalypse-flavoured blend of humour, humanity and horror in this thought-provoking drama on at the Brighton Fringe next week.

Culture Calling: Firstly, could you explain a bit about the concept behind your new play Protect and Survive?
 
Simon Moorhead: The play came about because in 1984 I was involved in a production called Threads, which was about two families in Sheffield. It followed their stories over a timespan of a few months before a nuclear strike to three years after a nuclear strike. Two years ago, which was the thirtieth anniversary of the film, we pitched the idea of doing a remake of the story to the BBC, which didn’t materialize. And then in November, the Brighton Fringe Academy started and the first session was about putting on a play. I went along to it and thought, ‘actually that would be quite a good idea. Let’s do a new production based around Threads.’ Or inspired by Threads.
 
CC: What was it like working on the original film production of Threads? Were you producing it?
 
 SM: No, I was an assistant floor manager. I was responsible for all the props that the actors handled and taking rehearsals, so I was very involved with all the props and a lot of the research. I spent a number of months building nuclear fallout shelters based upon the designs of the ‘Protect and Survive’ manual of the 1980s – paint your windows white and you’ll be protected from the nuclear blast etc.
 
What was interesting is that when we pitched to the BBC the idea of redoing the script, they said, ‘we’re interested but we’ve got to update it to the present day,’ which led me to do some research. And we uncovered the fact that in the 1990s the government of the day actually did away with the civil defence training in case of a nuclear attack. The nuclear bunkers were mothballed, the air raid sirens were taken away, so there was nothing in place. Of course, now we’re sitting on a knife-edge, with the doomsday clock reading two and a half minutes to midnight, when actually at the height of the cold war it was three minutes to midnight.
 
CC: What was it about this project that made you want to remake it now?
 
SM: A couple of days after Threads was transmitted, Neil Kinnock, who was the leader of the opposition, wrote to Barry Hines and Mick Jackson [writer and director of Threads] and said to the production team that the story must be told time and time again until the idea of using nuclear weapons is put into past history. And thirty years on, with the world as it is, it seems like an appropriate time to tell the story again. So we’re not telling the story of Threads; we’ve created a brand new story. I took it to a writer who I’ve been working with called Jonathan Williamson, and between us we created an outline for a new story. And he went away and wrote a brilliant script.
 
CC: Can you describe what happens in the play?
 
SM: We didn’t want to make it as outright depressing as Threads was. We wanted to keep a bit of humour in it. The whole play takes place in a recording studio with these actors acting out a play about a nuclear attack, so we get the drama of the horrors of the nuclear war, but we also get them reacting to what they’re talking about as actors in the present day. So they’re actors who’ve effectively gone to work on that day, and they’re reading horrific scenes of murder and the like, and it has an effect on them. But they’re also talking about things like being cast in Doctor Who etc. So there’s a bit of humour in it, as well as the horrors of nuclear Armageddon.
 
CC: It seems that in film and literature dystopian narratives are quite fashionable nowadays…
 
SM: Yeah absolutely. But I have to say that most of the fiction of the post-apocalyptic world – is fiction. The bleakness that was in the original Threads is probably closer to the reality of it. And certainly, as someone who was part of the production team [of Threads], living through a nuclear war time and time again over a six-week filming period, you came away going: ‘Nah. Just watch the firework display, with a nice bottle of wine etc.’ I wouldn’t want to live through the aftermath. Surprisingly enough especially in somewhere like Brighton!
 
CC: Why is that?
 
SM: Brighton is one of the five places in the UK that is potentially not a target. If London, Southampton, Portsmouth, Eastbourne, Dover etc are attacked and hit as targets, then somewhere like Brighton is the only place where refugees could come, so once you start living without water, food, electricity, gas, you’re fighting for food and suddenly you get this influx of thousands of people. I think that’s almost worse than dying of the radioactive fallout of the nuclear blast...
 
CC: What do you think about the fact that nuclear war seems to be threatening to go mainstream again?
 
SM: What I find most worrying is that actually no one’s talking about it. We are on the brink of a nuclear Armageddon, be it Americans versus North Korea, China versus North Korea, Russia versus whomever. But we’ve also got the potential of terrorist attacks, cyber hacking, and just good old-fashioned mistakes. Everyone seems to just dismiss it; no one’s actually talking about the nuclear threat, everyone’s talking about Brexit and the election. But it would be the end of civilization. So from that point of view, going back to the Neil Kinnock thing of telling the story, it’s one of the main things that we’re putting forward with the play: to tell the story again and raise people’s awareness.
 
 
Protect and Survive runs next week at the Brighton Fringe from 9 - 15 May. See the Brighton Fringe event listings for tickets and more information.

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