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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: 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 with God.

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.

Gerald Berkowitz

We reviewed another selection from this series HERE


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Review of  Scenes For Survival  2020