Following on from two fun-filled, family-focused, live-streamed shows, Big Telly Theatre, in collaboration with Riverside Theatre, has chosen a seemingly prescient EM Forster story for its latest piece.
The story, The Machine Stops, was written in 1909 and sees people living underground in individual cells, communicating via telephone.
An early speech - the cast all perform via Zoom from home - beautifully sums up our current predicament, how being connected via phone and video doesn't quite satisfy in making you feel connected in the same way as being with each other.
Life underground is governed by rules set out by the machine. You have to get permission to go to the apparently uninhabitable surface and reproduction is carefully managed.
The latter point is particularly pertinent to our situation given UK Government recent guidance and rules on social distancing.
If you've seen any of Big Telly's previous shows the format will be familiar, green screens enable the actors to be transported to different locations using projections and props, costumes and makeup are all what the actors have to hand or have made themselves.
Given the theme of the piece the interactive elements, getting the audience involved in the story doesn't feel necessary or as relevant as it did for the more family-focused pieces.
The dialogue - influenced by EM Forster's text - is weighty and sometimes the lighter more humorous moments serve to detract from the themes of the piece rather than add to it.
As a result, I'd have perhaps preferred more time given to exploring the experience of living isolated from others and the break down of blind obedience - this is where the play worked best for me. The parallels between what EM Forster wrote and expressed through his characters and our own experiences in lockdown are spookily similar.
The Machine Stops is a different beast to the previous shows and shows Big Telly going in a slightly different direction and just about getting away with it.
It is 60 minutes long and there are two more shows today (7 June) at 3 pm and 7.30 pm - visit Big Telly's website for more details.
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