Since the COVID-19 lockdown was introduced back in March, many of us have turned to social networking apps like Skype and Zoom to stay in touch with loved ones. And now theatres and production companies are getting in on the act too, broadcasting shows live online to keep the public entertained while helping to raise money for those in the industry who are currently out of work. The latest production to be broadcast online is A Separate Peace, the first in Curtain Call’s ‘Remote Read’ initiative, a series of one-off live productions streamed through Zoom, with proceeds going to stage technicians and creatives out of work due to COVID-19, and food charity The Felix Project.
Written in the 1960s, Tom Stoppard’s comedy drama is an intriguing story about a man who calls himself John Brown. When Brown (David Morrissey) turns up to the Beechwood Nursing Home in the early hours of the morning with a suitcase full of cash, wanting a room, the nurse on duty (Maggie Service) is confused. After all, Brown is not physically or mentally unwell (other than a sore finger) and there’s no emergency, he just wants to shelter from the outside world. As Nurse Maggie (Jenna Coleman) befriends Brown and is tasked with finding out more about him, the doctor (Denise Gough) and Matron (Ed Stoppard) are left to wonder why a healthy man wants to shut himself away and do nothing.
It may have been written almost sixty years ago, but A Separate Peace certainly strikes a chord with the current situation with the country in lockdown. At first it seems almost absurd that a man wants to hide away from the world, until you realise that’s just what we’re doing right now. Some of the dialogue also feels particularly relevant with the current support for the NHS – ‘a hospital is a very dependable place’, Brown says, as the nursing home staff ponder why he didn’t simply settle for a hotel instead.
Directed by Sam Yates, the production uses Zoom platform to great effect. The setup is relatively simple, with the cast members dressed in black in front of a white background (with their scripts just out of shot), though as Brown begins to paint his cleverly changes. If anything, the lack of set is effective, encouraging the audience to use their imaginations. Sound effects are used with great subtlety, while music also adds to the piece, signalling the end of scenes.
With a running time of around thirty minutes the time flies by and you’re left wanting more. Despite the short duration the cast all still manage to impress, and though they’re all in separate locations, you almost wouldn’t believe it as they strike up chemistry that’s evident even through the computer screen. David Morrissey oozes charm as John Brown, and his scenes with Jenna Coleman are a particular highlight. It’s through their interactions that you begin to empathise with the mysterious man. The other cast members also put in solid performances with their limited screen time, particularly Denise Gough as the weary doctor who wants to get to the bottom of Brown’s story.
With an intriguing premise and a standout cast, A Separate Peace is the perfect blend of humour and drama, and ensures that Curtain Call’s Remote Read series is off to a brilliant start. The show was perfectly adapted to the Zoom platform, and it was a thrill to watch live theatre once again. During this current period of uncertainty, online experiences look set to be the way forward, at least until theatres reopen, and A Separate Peace certainly sets the bar high.