Digital theatre review: All By Myself - a surface look at self identity in the digital age

A woman is in her dark flat, hunched over two potatoes, some nails and copper wire trying to make a battery. Her phone is running out of juice, there is a power cut and you have to admire her ingenuity.

All By Myself screen shot

It's not the first thing I'd think about if the power went off but then I don't have a popular YouTube channel and social media accounts that need regular feeding.

The play, a production by Part of the Main theatre company for Applecart Arts, is live streaming as part of the Dazed New World festival and explores identity during the Covid crisis when your only connection to the outside world is via the internet.

We see our YouTuber - played by Charlie Blandford - pouting, preening and oozing confidence for the camera while talking about self-care during lockdown.

Although we also see behind the scenes and how the best shots are carefully edited together to create the illusion of perfection and camera poise.

When the camera stops rolling and there is no self-editing she is human - flawed, frustrated, bored, lonely and desperate for that connection.

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Trying to find my theatre-going mojo again

Going from seeing two or more plays a week to nothing was a huge shock. In those early days, I devoured whatever was on offer online, whatever was free, some paid stuff and I took free trials on some of the streaming services to see what they had.

Claire-p-tAFPfaSVjNQ-unsplash
Photo by Claire P on Unsplash

But the longer lockdown went on I started looking elsewhere for different diversions. I didn't want to watch serious stuff or anything worthy I wanted escapism - popcorn movies on Netflix, fantasy, sci-fi, frothy teen dramas - anything that was far removed from reality.

My creative energy was being used up keeping my freelance business going which is what pays the bills - and pays for theatre.

Work didn't completely dry up but for a while it wasn't covering my living costs. Sorting that out had to be my main focus and it was as much adulting as I could muster.

So I found myself watching less and less theatre, cherry-picking bits and bobs.  I wrote less here on the blog, recording my weekly theatre questions videos was as much as I could manage most weeks. 

My theatre mojo was a pilot light rather than at full burn.

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Sunday theatre question: Will your theatre-watching habits change post-Covid?

Theatres are starting to open again but a return to normality is a long way off. Some theatres have turned to the internet to show old and new work, have you embraced digital theatre during the lockdown?

And will your habits change for the longer term?

I've been impressed by the creativity of theatres in producing work during the Covid crisis. Although it's been the smaller theatre production companies who have really embraced the opportunity with innovative and imaginative work that has made the most of the technology available.

In a recent interview director Katie Mitchell talked about how theatres makers will need to embrace this new landscape, mixing mediums and platforms like they have never done before.

It is a harsh reality that social distancing is going to be here for quite some time. And once this pandemic has been brought under control that doesn't mean there won't be another one.

Lesson's need to be taken from this. Theatres need to find ways of building resilience, embrace the challenge and creative channels on offer.

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Sunday theatre question: Have you seen a production design fail?

This week's Sunday theatre question is about when the production design of a play doesn't quite work. It perhaps distracts or gets in the way of the play or maybe makes performing unnecessarily challenging for the actors.

I've got a couple of examples that stick in my mind, one was a Shakespeare play at the Young Vic and the other was a classic Greek tragedy at the Donmar.

Both are memorable for the production fails rather than the performances or interpretation of classics.

Have you had a similar experience? Let me know in the comments.

If you want to explore previous Sunday theatre questions check out my social media:

YouTube channel Facebook page or Instagram.

 


Sunday theatre question: Which stage role would you choose for your favourite actor?

This Sunday's theatre question is inspired by a comment Ben Whishaw made in an interview about needing to do more Shakespeare. Watch the video to hear more about the question and my choice.

Would love to hear what your choice would be, let me know in the comments. Some suggestions already made over on my Instagram channel include David Dawson in a Simon Stephens play and David Tennant as Richard III. 

I'm going to make more of an effort to add my Sunday Theatre questions here every week as posting has got a bit sporadic but in the meantime, if you want to delve into the archive they on my social media channels:

YouTube channel Facebook page or Instagram.

And in keeping with the Ben Whishaw theme, you can find my edited highlights of a Q&A he did with director Katie Mitchell here.


Torch Oxford Q&A with Ben Whishaw and Katie Mitchell on process and performance in the pandemic age

Ben Whishaw and Katie Mitchell were interviewed live via Zoom by Wes Williams for Torch Oxford on approaches to acting and directing, creativity during the lockdown and how performance will evolve for the new Zoom-world.

Ben Whishaw  Katie Mitchell Torch Oxford

Here are the edited highlights and the link to the full hour-long interview is at the bottom.

How did you come to directing/acting?

Katie:  I didn't really feel any connection with any of the work that was happening in the UK as a young woman in the 1980s.

So most of my influences came from a very big trip, I made to Eastern Europe to Russia, Georgia and Lithuania and Poland, where I researched directors' training and saw amazing practitioners and learned a lot about Stanislavski. And also seeing work that was coming into the UK from abroad.

Anyway, I then did about 15 years of working on naturalism in mainstream text-based theatre. But I always wanted to go back to a more visual arts influence, making work that was to do with the crossover between theatre and other mediums.

And so I then have my breakthrough show going into live cinema, which then set off what I would consider my real career.

It changed my life in a way

Ben: I got taken to an audition for a Youth Theatre when I was 13 by my dad, and it was a Youth Theatre in a town just down the road from the village I grew up in.

I was quite a shy 13-year-old and I think my dad must have thought it would do me good and I liked acting I'd done acting in school but I had never explored it further than that.

So I went to this audition and I got into this youth theatre and it changed my life in a way. And we did extraordinary things there. We did Greek plays and we did adaptations of books and we did devised pieces.

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Review: Faith Healer, Old Vic In Camera - when 'Zoom theatre' truly comes into its own

I miss sitting in a theatre and watching a live performance. I miss it terribly. But the Old Vic's latest In Camera production - Brian Friel's Faith Healer - not only worked really well as a live stream, it might have worked better.

Faith Healer poster old vic in camera
The 'curtain' during scene changes

I've seen the play before, a production at the Donmar Warehouse in 2016, its format is four monologues told by three different characters all recounting the build-up to a fateful night in a pub in rural Ireland with each having a contrasting take.

The faith healer of the title is Frank Hardy (Michael Sheen) who travels around healing people with his wife Grace (Indira Varma) and manager Teddy (David Threlfall) tow.

Frank questions his ability to heal. He tells us he just knows when something is going to happen and when it is not. His success rate hasn't led to fame and fortune rather, it's a tough life on the road sometimes sleeping in the van.

Genuine or con?

Is his 'ability' genuine or a truth he tells himself or a con?

Both Teddy and Grace have something that resembles faith in his healing.

Teddy refers to it as a 'talent'. His background is in managing seemingly improbable - and amusing - variety acts such as Rob Roy, the bagpipe playing whippet.

Yet there is no perceived irony in how he talks about Frank or any of his 'acts'.

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Happy 50th birthday Young Vic: A few of my favourite productions

The Young Vic is celebrating its 50th birthday and while I've only been visiting since 2007-ish, I've seen many fantastic and memorable plays there in that time.

Young Vic neon sign
Photo: Rev Stan

It's one of my favourite theatres, partly because of the variety of work it puts on, partly because the space is so flexible you never know what to expect and partly because it just has a cool vibe.

So I've been on a bit of a trip down memory lane and dug through my archives to pick out some of my favourite productions.

Happy Birthday Young Vic, hope to be back watching plays again soon...

Jesus Hopped The 'A' train, 2019

Genius writing by Stephen Adly Guirgis and the cast didn't waste a word of it. The play took you in an unexpected direction and left you questioning your thoughts and reactions.

The Inheritance, 2018

Aside from being an epic two-parter which is full of laughter and pathos, I also have a fondness for this play and production because I saw it on my birthday. (And I prefer it to Angels in America but shhh don't tell anyone.)

My Name is Rachel Corrie, 2017

A fantastic solo performance by Erin Doherty, and a story that simultaneously gave you faith in mankind and utter despair.

Yerma, 2016

Inventive staging, 'magical' scene changes, a contemporary spin on a classic that worked brilliantly - and Billie Piper.

A Song From Far Away, 2015

The first word that came out of my mouth after watching this Simon Stephens play was "fuck" - for good reasons.

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Review: Andrew Scott in Three Kings - a master in storytelling, compelling and gripping

If you've ever seen Andrew Scott perform Simon Stephens' monologue Sea Wall you'll know he is a master storyteller, deftly lifting words off the page and turning them into something compelling and gripping.

Andrew Scott Three Kings start

Three Kings, beautifully written by Stephen Beresford, gives him even more scope to sprinkle his performance magic.

Created especially for the Old Vic's In Camera, it is described as a scratch performance but only the lack of embellishments like set and fancy lighting give any sign of this. 

And who needs any of that anyway when you've got 60 minutes of you and Andrew Scott, albeit seen from the other side of a screen.

Funny and heartbreaking

Like Sea Wall, the power is in the story as it is told. And it is a powerful piece Scott drawing out the humour and heartache in equal measure.

Three Kings is about the relationship between a son and his an estranged father.

He meets him briefly at 8 years old but the meeting leaves an indelible mark which will go on shaping their relationship for many years.

His father leaves him a challenge of solving a puzzle involving three coins - the Three Kings of the title.

But it more than a simple test of puzzle-solving, solving this puzzle is hugely weighted.

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Uncle Vanya with Toby Jones & Richard Armitage is back...in a special filmed version

I saw Uncle Vanya starring Toby Jones and Richard Armitage at the Harold Pinter Theatre at the beginning of March and loved it so much I was going to try and get another ticket but then lockdown happened.

Uncle Vanya (c) Photography Seamus Ryan and Artwork Muse Creative Communications
Uncle Vanya (c) Photography Seamus Ryan and Artwork Muse Creative Communications

Much excitement then that the production is coming back. It's been filmed on stage with almost the entire original cast (Roger Allam is stepping in for Ciaran Hinds). 

It's not a straight-forward film version of the stage production instead it has been directed for the screen by Ross MacGibbon in "a sumptuous re-interpretation of Ian Rickson’s stage production".

The filming took place under strict Covid-19 secure, independently drawn up protocols, with the cast self-isolating and undergoing regular tests and the crew in masks, PPE and socially distancing throughout the process.

It will have a cinematic release before being broadcast by the BBC.

For more details head to https://unclevanyaplay.com/.

Can't wait to see it again in this new version.

It will be interesting to see if other productions that had to close follow suit. What would you like to see back in a filmed version?

Related reading:

Review: Richard Armitage 'magnetic', Toby Jones 'endearing', Aimee Lou Wood 'adorable'