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. Until things return to normal we review
the experience of watching live theatre onscreen.
For Survival: Getting Close, Listen To Me, The Maid's Room, Running
Out, 68 Months In Waiting, Three Billion Swipes
National Theatre of Scotland Summer 2020
With all theatrical activity
blocked by Covid-19, the National Theatre of Scotland commissioned more
than fifty short – ten minutes or under – scripts that could be performed
and recorded in lockdown conditions. Originally broadcast on BBC Scotland,
they are now available online.
This random selection of six
seems representative, suggesting that there are more gems to be found.
Generally limited to one or two performers, the plays are quick character
studies or anecdotes.
The obvious comparison is to
Alan Bennett's Talking Heads series. While these shorter pieces can't
develop the same depth or texture, the most successful are either wholly
satisfying miniatures or evocative beyond their brevity.
While some of the plays adopt
the Bennett chat-with-the-camera mode, others use lockdown as their
subject or medium – for example, by employing the thin vertical format of
camera phones or the split screen of Zoom conversations.
Corinne Salisbury's Three
Billion Swipes is the online speed date of a mismatched couple (David
Rankine and Kirsty Findley), while Catherine Grosvenor's Listen To Me
shows an out-of-work actor (Taqi Nazeer) essaying a new career as an
inspirational online lecturer.
(The couple don't quite
connect, while the actor realises he needs inspiring even more than his
putative audience does.)
Kathy McKean's Getting Close
shows enforced isolation driving a woman (Nicole Cooper) into into
yearning memories of a lover she hasn't seen in almost a decade. In Aine
King's Running Out a woman who has fallen into lockdown lethargy (Victoria
Balnaves) finds the impetus to start exercising in a desperate bargain
Two plays with supernatural
overtones have little or no connection to the pandemic. Nelly Kelly's 68
Months In Waiting is set in a dystopic future when all transgendered
people and other unacceptables have been banished to a remote Scottish
island. Now being attacked even there, one survivor (Afton Moran) takes
inspiration from another (Jo Clifford) who may be the Spirit of the island
and fights back.
And Lynda Radley's The Maid's
Room is an almost-generic ghost story in which the owner of a guest house
(Gerry Mulgrew) tries to cope with a poltergeist whose activities are
getting him bad Tripadvisor reviews.
As that summary suggests, the
tone of these pieces ranges from sad through bittersweet to bemusedly
comic. Of these six, Grosvenor's actor's tale and King's determined jogger
are most successful in a complete-in-themselves way, while McKean's
nostalgic lover and Kelly's transgendered rebel are sketches that leave
you wanting to know more about these people and their stories.
There is certainly enough here to draw you to browse among the forty-plus others.
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