Albeit crucial, the days in which theatres closed their doors amidst the coronavirus outbreak are arguably the most desolating showbiz has seen, throwing umpteen thespians, amongst others, into both financial and vocational jeopardy. Whilst the archived responses from the likes of National Theatre and Andrew Lloyd Webber are quite rightly going down a storm, broadcasting footage from times gone by does little for work opportunities.
One of the leading initiatives countering this widespread problem is a series of one-off virtual productions called The Remote Read. Co-produced by theatre advisors Apples and Oranges Arts, stagey network specialists Curtain Call and emerging talent promoters Platform Presents, the premise is quite atypical. Even though the actors read live from their homes via video chat app Zoom, pieces are still professionally designed and still have Stage Managers. It’s raising funds for good causes too, with proceeds going to creatives that are redundant due to COVID-19 alongside a range of charities.
“one of the most groundbreaking productions of its time”
Directed by Sam Yates, its first instalment was a take on Sir Tom Stoppard’s 1966 television play A Separate Peace. It follows the piquant John Brown as his desire to live in a private hospital and do next to nothing becomes reality – somehow I doubt today’s folk would share his wish.
Most creditable is Tech Designer Tim Kashani for steering the ingenious use of the platforms at hand. For anyone with limited tech nous like myself, firing up Zoom can feel like you’re about to hit the troubles of a quarantine quiz, but apart from some unavoidable internet issues, there were none of the sort; you essentially clicked a link and relaxed. Ensuring aural effects are both loud enough and running to a tee is essential for in-the-flesh shows, but Deputy Stage Manager Kim Battistini and Sound Designer Sam Glossop deserve special praise for making this happen in the circumstances. Kudos also goes to whoever thought up the clever, yet simple, idea of the actors covering their cameras with paper when offscreen, which gave great smoothness to entrances and exits.
Bearing in mind the creative team’s hard work, it’s gratifying that mistakes were so sparse. The only major issue was one awry instance of mime. You put yourself up for serious scrutiny if naturalistic props are used extensively, and then someone paints without a brush.
Playing the Doctor, two-time Olivier winner Denise Gough was magnificent, expertly showcasing both the medic’s scepticism at John’s desires and her worries about the justness of the hospital allowing him to realise them. In fact, there were well-polished performances all round. What’s questionable is the appropriateness of the wide-ranging extents to which the actors knew the script, leaving a disharmonious impression of the cast as a collective. Lockdown script readings don’t come around that often, and so I must stress how massively removed the series is from other performance mediums. Nonetheless, A Separate Peace is certainly one of the most groundbreaking productions of its time.
A Separate Peace was presented via Zoom on 2nd May 2020.