Reflections on isolation: the first lockdown dramas reviewed

18 April 2020

9:00 AM

18 April 2020

9:00 AM

Love in the Time of Corona


Housetrap Theatre and Arts Festival


Twelfth Night

RSC, via Marquee TV

High Tide got there first. The East Anglian theatre company has produced a series of lockdown mini-dramas, Love in the Time of Corona, made up of five filmed reflections on self-isolation. ‘Rainbows’ by Morgan Lloyd Malcolm is narrated by a woman on the edge teaching her kids to decorate the windows with coloured paints. ‘Child Two is crying and Child One is giving me the finger.’ Outside, as she takes a photograph, she suffers an anxiety attack. ‘The gurgling panic in the base of my gut, the pain in my chest. Not virus, all fear.’ She decides to flee. But will her children survive without her? Convincingly performed by Katie Lyons, this is a simple, well-made tale with a dilemma, a turning point and a resolution.

‘Bedlam Before The Burnout’ by Aisha Zia is set in late July 2020. We’re in London and a young woman (Jade Anouka) is looking back after spending the spring and summer hiding from a virus she regards as a personal inconvenience. ‘Dropped Mum at the airport,’ she tells us early on. ‘All the flights’ve been cancelled. Shit.’ Sometimes her self-absorption makes her lyrical. ‘Peace finds me finally in the early hours of the morning and I cherish it.’ Sometimes it makes her cryptic. ‘Gratitude arrives with desperation. Day 12. Pub’s closed.’ After three months she morphs into Jonathan Livingston Seagull. ‘Day 91. What is happiness?’ By Day 101, all she can manage is: ‘Are we going to make it?’ A character with more intelligence and humanity might have worked better.

Housetrap Theatre and Arts Festival curated a night of entertainment as a livestreamed event on YouTube. Mostly it was songs, drama and stand-up but the evening opened with a strangely absorbing piece by Yun Collective in Taiwan who brewed tea while a mysterious human hand decorated posters with English slogans. This lasted 12 minutes. The rest of the programme consisted of British acts, many of them lurking in bedsits that looked like prison cells, who read poetry and performed pub-theatre routines. YouTube provided a running total to let us know how many people around the world were tuning in (or out). A side panel invited comments from viewers but most of these observations were infuriatingly civil and positive. Extra bile from the audience would have spiced things up. Some viewers knew each other in real life and exchanged greetings and gossip via the side panel. This made the show feel like a Victorian music hall where the spectators chatted and entertained each other while the performers struggled to win their attention. It’s surprising that this interactive format hasn’t become more popular. It could deliver a talent show or a charity gig with the stars performing from their own homes while the audience whinged or cheered in the comments section.

Housetrap Theatre is a promising notion but the quality of the acts, and their equipment, needs to improve. A laptop webcam is a hopeless broadcasting device. Online performers need to buy a decent camera with a separate mike. Don’t spend less than £600.

The RSC has released a recording of its 2017 production of Twelfth Night. Christopher Luscombe’s strikingly handsome show sets the action in late Victorian London with references to Wilde and Gilbert and Sullivan. Orsino becomes a dilettante artist who first appears with his shirt ripped open, painting a naked cupid while a musician tinkles on a piano. Dinita Gohil (Viola) begins her quest to find her brother, Sebastian, played by Esh Alladi. But only a half-wit would imagine they’re twins. They look about as interchangeable as a tangerine and a hand grenade.

Malvolio is played by Adrian Edmondson as a ferocious, Amish-bearded prude but he never truly intimidates Toby Belch (John Hodgkinson) who is himself unusually tall and menacing. Alongside him Michael Cochrane’s Aguecheek resembles a tiny doll-like David Lloyd George aged about 100. He’s so frail that his romantic longings seem tragically misplaced. He doesn’t look capable of winning the affection of a motherless duckling let alone Kara Tointon’s majestically sexy Olivia.

The outfits on display here are a delight but the cross-gartering is mishandled because of costume errors. (A common problem with this sticky bit of burlesque.) The more changes Malvolio makes to his appearance the less effective the comedy. Because the garters are yellow, and highly visible, they need only be slender strips of fabric but most designers lay on yards and yards of flouncing ribbon. In this version, Malvolio’s makeover is so extreme that he seems to be a new character. Gone are the dark tailcoat, breeches and stockings. In comes a velvet tunic and a floppy artist’s beret with a golden border. Malvolio looks like the Jack of Diamonds. Edmondson is an experienced comic and he seems at ease working the crowd and extracting laughs from his unMalvolian outfit. To me it looks a tad forced.

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