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The Comedy of Errors

Streaming Theatre Review: Still Life

20 May 21 words: Stuart McComb

Stuart McComb reviews the new verbatim theatre anthology from Nottingham Playhouse...

Nottingham Playhouse has stepped out of its comfort zone during lockdown with a duo of online productions. Theatre is a medium that can transfer well to the screen in many ways—actors often start their professional careers in theatre before coming onto the screen—so it’s interesting to see how the Playhouse is approaching this new format.

Still Life is a piece of verbatim theatre containing five short stories which happened around Nottingham over the course of the third lockdown earlier this year. For those who don’t know, Verbatim is a type of theatre where the story told is based on information collected from interviews from volunteers, which allows for a more realistic depiction. The stories cover most of the different demographics and their experiences of the lockdown earlier this year, those being children, students, workers and the elderly.

Personally, my favourite pieces were Out of Stock and Facts. Out of Stock offered a view into the food banks and smaller cafes and the effect COVID has had on the local communities. This is the piece which felt closest to a theatrical piece having been performed in one take with tracking the actress (Julie Hesmondaulgh) as she travels around the centre and feels like a conversation with an unseen first person view—this is the only segment to do so. In some ways it also feels the most natural, as if she is rambling on.

Facts is told from the view of 11-year-old Anna (Amelia Harding) who finished primary school during the first lockdown and started high school over the later lockdowns, breaking each of her points down with numbers to handle her chatty nature and her experiences so far. The events she mentions reminded me of my own life in some ways—studying from home, holidays—having been forced home from university early before the first lockdown and returning to Nottingham at the start of my third year. The hindrances the effects of the lockdown has had on her personal growth, such as still feeling shy, unable to say goodbye or hang out with old friends or make new friends in addition to the already existing nervousness of starting a new part of life was also a relatable factor.

The magic of the theatre does not have to be restricted to the building

In terms of the other three segments, I felt the last segment Muriel written by Alan Bennett and starring Frances De La Tour was the weakest. It is short with Muriel contemplating her husband’s passing. I felt this was a representation of depression since she is acting as if she is on Zoom at her husband’s funeral when she is actually in front of the mirror which is clear with the final gut punch at the end.

The other two segments were called Handle with Care and Pimp my Ride. Handle with Care follows a couple of delivery drivers named Luke (Conor Clean) and Sam (Karl Haynes) on their lunch break from making deliveries. Their small talk ranged from their own experiences with deliveries—particularly for the well off—and the fact that they both see this job as just providing for their families. It also tackles their fears of abuse, which has been reported to have increased, and whether ousting the truth will only make the situation worse. They at first seem to be completely different, but over their discussions discover they are more similar than they realise.

Pimp my Ride followed another type of essential work, this time a taxi driver named Shaq (Esh Alladi) taking a student named Lauren (Jessica Temple) to meet her dad for the first time since lockdown. This story played into the stigma held over the pandemic of students not being as responsible and being scapegoated by older demographics. But as the truth comes out, both sides have their own realisations.

In conclusion, this was a little experiment for the Playhouse to still deliver meaningful theatre during a pandemic. It offers multiple views at how the pandemic has affected different people in a more educational and effective way than traditional media has been. I hope Nottingham Playhouse will continue to develop further with the techniques from this performance and experiment beyond the theatre for the people in Nottingham. The magic of the theatre does not have to be restricted to the building.

Still Life will be available on the Nottingham Playhouse website until Thursday 24 June

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