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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. Until things return to normal we review the experience of watching live theatre onscreen.

Scenes For Survival: The Banshee, Danni The Champion, Sore Afraid, Wednesday, How We Roll, Larchview
National Theatre of Scotland  Autumn 2020

With theatres closed, the National Theatre Of Scotland commissioned from Scottish writers almost fifty short scripts that could be recorded and produced under lockdown conditions. Originally broadcast on BBC Scotland, these plays average length ten minutes are now available from the NTS.

We reviewed a random selection of six HERE, and now pick another six at random. The quality remains remarkably high. The best manage in their brevity to conjure up an entire world or a fully rounded characterisation.

In Greg Hemphill's The Banshee Julie Wilson Nimmo plays a woman suddenly struck with the impulse to write a story, but constantly distracted by the painful wailings of a sick elderly neighbour. As she reacts to the interruption an eerie and supernatural tone begins to develop, and by the end she and we realise she's found the ghost story to write.

That sense of something actually happening in the course of the short play permeates Iain Finlay Macleod's Danni The Champion as well, as Francesca Taylor Coleman captures without bathos all the frustration and sadness of a teenager living a dead-end life in a dead-end town.

But in the middle of her barely articulate grumbling she stumbles on the half-realisation 'a whole life of this?' that change might be up to her. There is no promise of a happy ending, but we realise we have caught the almost imperceptible moment when one became possible.

Sore Afraid, by Michael John O'Neill, starts out comically as the woman played by Maureen Beattie can't resist watching through two sets of windows as her neighbours have frequent and energetic sex. But as we learn of her own personal tragedy her emotional investment in what she chooses to believe are their attempts at procreation becomes sadly moving.

If the remaining three in this batch are not quite so resonant, they are still solid dramatic snapshots capturing their moment effectively. In Tena Stivicic's Wednesday a theatrical couple (Douglas Henshall and Morven Christie) rehearse a scene in their garden, the writing and performances artfully keeping us repeatedly unsure whether any given moment is part of their script or a real interaction of man and wife. J

anice Galloway's How We Roll has Isabella Jarrett recording memories of being a young mother playing with her daughter, with Cora Bissett as the mother in flashbacks. The eventually explained reason for the recording colours both past and present scenes.

And Rob Drummond's Larchview has Mark Bonnar as a government officer who broke his own lockdown rules rehearse his public apology only to acknowledge, at least to himself, that his crime was far worse than he is willing to admit on camera.

If random selection can bring up such high quality, the overall standard must be very high, making the Scenes For Survival series well worth your own sampling.

Gerald Berkowitz 

We reviewed others in this series HERE

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Review of  Scenes For Survival 2020