The zaniest love story ever told

The crazy cast.

It’s not quite Shakespeare as we know it and it’s definitely not for the squeamish. I spoke  to Steve Hili, the brains behind the upcoming production of Romeo and Juliet 2 and a Zombie. This interview was published on The Sunday Times.

There’s nothing like adding a zombie or a vampire to a classic in order to give it a fresh lease of life. It worked on the literary front for Seth Graham-Smith’s parody novel Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. Not to mention Ben H. Winter’s Sense and Sensibility and Sea-Monsters.

Tybalt, for starters, is a zombie that displays a rather disturbing penchant for crocheting

On the cinematographic front we recently had Abraham Lincoln Vampire Slayer. Nothing to stop this mash-up from being equally successful on a theatre stage and this is exactly what director, script-writer, musician and comedian Steve Hili is banking on with Romeo and Juliet 2 and a Zombie.

Hili is known for his wacky and somewhat unorthodox approach to humour. A familiar name in theatre – he played one of the baddies in the Christmas panto Ali Baba last year – and on the airwaves thanks to his daily breakfast show, Hili has become synonymous with a somewhat unorthodox approach to humour.

His upcoming production, Romeo and Juliet 2 and a Zombie, will certainly continue fostering this reputation. He tells me that he thought of penning the script about a year and a half ago while waiting for a meeting to start.

“I was having coffee when inspiration, ahem, struck. Why not have a sequel to Romeo and Juliet?”

Maybe because it’s difficult to create a follow-up story about two dead protagonists, I hazard. But no, a trifling detail like this is not enough to stop Hili.

“I had to add a hint of a ‘what if’ to it. The creative floodgates just opened and it evolved into the masterpiece that it is,” Hili says with a poker face.

The story takes off right after the events that concluded what’s probably the world’s most famous love story. Certain familiar elements, Hili says, are still present: he mentions “moments of great chemistry” between the two undead protagonists; Paris’s seemingly eternal lusting after his teenage sweetheart; Tybalt’s hatred of Romeo, that has survived the grave…

Along the infamous elements that made the classic the popular work that it is, Hili has juxtaposed a number of crazy storylin­es.

Tybalt, for starters, is a zombie that displays a rather disturbing penchant for crocheting. Rosaline is a drummer in a band. Somehow, the witches from “the Scottish play” – Hili is not above a touch of superstition – manage to get themselves in there too. As does The Artist formerly known as Prince. Only, in this case, he really is the prince.

“It is the sequel I would like to think that the Bard himself would have written had he been… how can I put this delicately? Under the influence, maybe? I guess it all boils down to me wanting to write a play that I would find hilarious, with twists that no one manages to predict and little moments where the audience is guaranteed to scratch its collective head and go: ‘What on earth…?’”

Finding a cast that, in Hili’s words, “got it” was not the smoothest of enterprises. Finally, the cast that “laughed at the right places” was finalised; the list includes Joseph Zammit as Romeo; Chantelle Micallef Grimaud as Juliet; David Chircop as Paris; Alba Florian Viton as Rosaline; Joe Depasquale as Zombie Tybalt and Sean Briffa taking on the part of the witch(es) .

“As always, the budget was a problem, particularly so because we are putting together a piece of fringe theatre. Although fringe shows are starting to appear on the rock, it’s still something quite new for Malta. I can’t wait for the audience’s reaction!”

This is Hili’s first attempt at writing a full script. Is he nervous? Just a bit, he replies with a grin. He says that he finished the first draft in a “few weeks” before half-forgetting all about it thanks to the myriad projects he was involved in.

“I kept going back to the idea though. The story was too funny to waste. Finally I really threw myself into it and the gags sort of flowed of their own accord. There were a couple of points when I thought ‘this will have to go’ but instead… let’s just say that it only got naughtier and weirder!”

Those who are acquainted with Hili’s foray into the music arena will know exactly what he means. A couple of months ago, when Hili released his first single, Jennifer’s Dead, under the stage name of Baron Bubblebeef, it wasn’t just the edgy ska sound that got everyone intrigued. The lyrics and the subject matter had a lot to do with the fascination that the single instigated.

“What can I say, I love subversive and shocking humour. It is the rebel in me.”

Feedback to the single was mixed; some hated it; others got the humour immediately; others still didn’t even “get it”. The negative feedback was considerably less than expected.

“I also released a radio edit of the track and some radio stations have been supportive. Others, not so much, which is to be expected. The song got a tiny bit of airplay abroad, which is something I am pretty chuffed about.”

The coming months are set to be hectic for Hili, with various projects that span across multiple creative fronts. Two new tracks are in the pipeline for Baron Bubblebeef. Rather disturbingly, he adds that lyrics for the third endeavour involve sheep.

Another theatrical production is also in the works, with Hili currently working on a script called Sex Confessions for a Maltese Man.

“It is kind of autobiographical, but all the names have been changed… almost.”

Well, he never said his brand of humour is for everyone now, did he?

Romeo And Juliet 2 and a Zombie runs at the MADC club rooms between August 31 and September 2. For tickets call/message 9944 9161.