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 The Theatreguide.London Review

In March 2020 the covid-19 epidemic forced the closure of all British theatres. Some companies adapted by putting archive recordings of past productions online, others by streaming new shows. And we take the opportunity to explore other vintage productions preserved online. Until things return to normal we review the experience of watching live theatre onscreen.

Reel Life
Folio Theatre   Spring 2022

Alys Metcalf's one-hour play, staged by Folio Theatre and English Touring Theatre in 2016, is now available online.

It is a puzzle play that withholds vital information from us until the end, but it may be too clever for its own good.

By the time all or at least most is revealed, the play's subject, which is legitimately serious and important, can't help feeling a little anticlimactic. There is so much unnecessary mystification that what should be an emotionally resonant reassessment of all that came before may seem hardly worth the effort.

The play is structured on three separate plot lines. In the central action a young woman who has decided to take up fishing picks a riverside spot that a curmudgeonly older man considers his private territory.

As the rules of playwriting require, the odd couple move inevitably from animosity through uneasy truce to a friendship that helps both through their separate emotional journeys.

Their scenes are punctuated by cutaways to a young man in his kitchen trying to apologise for his behaviour to his off-camera ex, and by a third set of scenes in which two strangers repeatedly meet and annoy each other.

The three lines seem to have no plot or thematic connection to each other until the final moments, when very basic facts like who is who and where they stand chronologically are revealed and the story can be (mostly) fit together.

Some of this structure is quite ingenious, but to the extent that the audience is engaged in trying to piece it together, the play's true subject the Why of it all gets pushed aside.

Film director Alfred Hitchcock used to say that what he called the 'McGuffin,' the thing the characters were fighting over, was less important than the fact that they were fighting over it. In Metcalf's play, trying to figure out what the three plot lines have in common outweighs the meaningfulness of the answer.

The online version benefits from being shot on location, with the central scenes on a real riverbank.

But Lizzie Stables (woman), Matt Tait (younger man) and Michael Palmer (older man) the last two also double as the pair in the third story line fight valiantly to create characters when so much about them is withheld from us, and to make us care when puzzle-solving has displaced emotional involvement.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review of Reel Life - Folio Theatre online 2022