Unrestrained beast feast

A darkly comic tale of fencing, murder and sausages gets the multimedia treatment
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The Independent Culture

The Booker-shortlisted 1998 debut novel by Magnus Mills, The Restraint of Beasts, is to be given a multimedia staging. Mills, a former Route-master bus driver and fence builder, reads from his cult book as the story is acted out against a video backdrop of fencers at work and the sound of the hammering of fence posts and lorries driving past. The live soundtrack is provided by the Newcastle indie band, go-carter. The piece had its premiere at the Crossing Border festival in The Hague, Holland, this week.

The Booker-shortlisted 1998 debut novel by Magnus Mills, The Restraint of Beasts, is to be given a multimedia staging. Mills, a former Route-master bus driver and fence builder, reads from his cult book as the story is acted out against a video backdrop of fencers at work and the sound of the hammering of fence posts and lorries driving past. The live soundtrack is provided by the Newcastle indie band, go-carter. The piece had its premiere at the Crossing Border festival in The Hague, Holland, this week.

The darkly comic story about two men putting up a fence, with some inconsequential deaths thrown in for good measure, was adapted by Mills' former upstairs neighbour, the actor Nick Mercer. "It is a 'reading deluxe' of his novel," says Mercer, who directs and performs in the show, and has read Mills' second novel, All Quiet on the Orient Express on BBC Radio.

"I had been living upstairs from Magnus for 10 years in Brixton," he says. "I knew he was writing a book. He often asked me downstairs to read sections of it, then suddenly he became this public figure."

Mills gave up driving buses after his first novel hit the shelves, but he soon became miserable; his latest book, The Scheme for Full Employment, is loosely based on his current job as a delivery van driver.

The actors, Mercer and Kenny Blyth, share the narrative voice with Mills through the novel's main characters, Tam and Richie. "I am also reading the part of the ominous John Hall, who owns a meat factory and the rival fencing firm," Mercer says. "Kenny also plays Donald, an insane manager of the fencing company. He is a fundamentalist fencer, because his fences are dead straight."

The story caught the attention of Shaun Kelly, the lead guitarist of go-carter, when Mercer gave him a copy of the book. "It was just an experiment," Mercer says of go-carter's musical setting of the tale, "but it turned out that the band were well into the flow of a cinematic soundtrack. They were already writing ambient and descriptive passages of music to carry the story along." He remembers being spellbound when he first heard what the band had dreamt up - a combination of atmospheric, guitar-led indie music, banjo playing and a cappella singing.

When Mercer set about adapting the novel into scenes, the band had to compromise and fit their music in with the mood of each scene. "For example, in the scene of death by hammer," Mercer says, "the music is a sickening guitar drone; implying something sinister is about to happen."

Kelly, who has been working on the music for nearly a year, says: "We worked with the book's themes. We came up with barren and stark acoustics. You can listen and imagine grim hills and windswept working conditions. But the book has all sorts of moods - it is funny, sad, beautiful and powerful - so we move between pretty music to more challenging sounds."

'The Restraint of Beasts' and go-carter, The Spitz, London, E1 (020-7392 9032; www.spitz.co.uk) 29 and 30 November

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