From riveting Hitchockian melodrama to bigoted drivel: BBC’s Unprecedented reviewed

8 August 2020

9:00 AM

8 August 2020

9:00 AM

West End Musical — Silent Disco Walking Tour


BBC iPlayer

Back to the West End at last. After a four- month lay-off, I grabbed the first available chance to catch a show in central London. I joined 20 enthusiasts at the ‘West End Musical — Silent Disco Walking Tour’, which convened outside a Fitzrovia pub. We were given a pink bracelet and a set of headphones that pumped musical hits into our ears. Our cheerleader, Sean, introduced us to his helpers, Tiny Tom and Sticky Vicky, who taught us a quick dance move.

It transpired that we were the performers as well as the audience. We set off across the West End like a military convoy of unemployed choristers. At Old Compton Street we belted out ‘A Spoonful of Sugar’ from Mary Poppins. We halted opposite the Dominion Theatre and invented a bum-wiggling routine to the tune of ‘Walk Like An Egyptian’. We reached the Lyric, Shaftesbury Avenue, where a Michael Jackson musical ran for more than a decade. Sean lined us up on the kerb and got us to sing ‘Billie Jean’. ‘Now moonwalk backwards across Shaftesbury Avenue,’ he ordered. We did so, sustaining no injuries.

The BBC is broadcasting more lockdown dramas under the label Unprecedented. The results are patchy. Romantic Distancing by Tim Price, and directed by Jeremy Herrin, is about a girl who dumps a boy online. The creative team should have tried harder.

Safer At Home by Anna Maloney features a kindly mother (Geraldine James) who phones her married daughter and discovers that her relationship has soured since the virus took hold. Hardly worth the trouble. A similar lack of ambition affects Everybody’s Talkin’ by Chloe Moss, in which Sue Johnston plays a gran who chats with her three adult daughters via Zoom. She complains about sharing information with her carer. ‘I don’t like her knowing the ins and outs of my shopping. It’s private.’ The three bossy daughters keep hassling their mum to take up pilates or psychotherapy. But all she wants is to express her yearning for human contact in over-elaborate prose. ‘I’d love to put your children on my knee and squeeze their little fingers full of soil and paint.’

Meera Syal has landed a plum role in a sparkling comedy, House Party, by April De Angelis. A group of six neighbours meet for a video conference during lockdown. ‘It’s good to see some human faces,’ says a knackered mother.‘I only get to see the children’. The script develops into a beautiful fretwork of interlocking stories. The final two minutes are crammed with surprises.

Central Hill by Nathaniel Martello-White opens with an angry young couple struggling to keep their relationship going via Zoom. Their chat is interrupted by an older male who gives the youngsters notes on their performances. It turns out that this is a romantic comedy being rehearsed. The film was cancelled when the virus broke out and the director decided to re-shoot his blockbuster on two webcams in separate flats. This isn’t entirely plausible but the story deepens suddenly when the actress hears a knock at the door. She admits a masked visitor who claims to be the sound technician. But is he? The tale takes a macabre twist and becomes a riveting piece of Hitchockian melodrama.

Batshit is a monologue spoken by an unnamed British/Chinese female. It’s quite a surprise, this play. If you Google the name of the author, Jasmine Lee-Jones, you find photographs of an attractive young woman holding a Most Promising Playwright award. But when you start to watch Batshit you’re flattened by an avalanche of bigoted, ungrammatical drivel that casts the Chinese people as a hate-filled master-race determined to punish the West for falsely claiming that the virus originated in Wuhan.

‘It’s you,’ rants the female, played by Kae Alexander. ‘You’ve always been the host. Carrying, infecting everything with your incessant idealism. Encouraging expanse. Expanding at the cost of the environment… bleeding the earth raw.’

She revels in the prospect of a genocidal cataclysm. ‘The earth will correct its mistakes, correct the pores of its skin.’ She predicts that ‘retribution and revenge’ will cause the ‘cadavers’ to scab up and crisp over. ‘We never needed you. And we will be here after.’

The piece ends on a note of murderous hysteria. ‘Bodies vanquished, wiped out, erased, gravestones filed, names gone. Delete, delete,’ she yells. Someone at the BBC should look at their motto: ‘nation shall speak peace unto nation’.

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