Lloyd Evans Lloyd Evans

A last hurrah for the Zoom play

Socially Distant *Yet Digitally Close, from Grid Iron Theatre Company, is a great feat of imagination and a valuable account of lockdown

One of the 30 artful and attractive filmed monologues that make up Grid Iron Theatre's Socially Distant *Yet Digitally Close

Lockdown is about to end but some theatres are gripped by cabin fever and want to explore the two new formats created by the pandemic. One is the Zoom play with multiple actors, the other is the sequence of filmed soliloquys linked by a theme or storyline.

Tim Crouch has directed a Zoom version of B.S. Johnson’s satire House Mother Normal, which is set in an old folks’ home in the 1960s. The inmates are detained in a communal ward run by a sadistic nurse, the ‘house mother’, who enforces a programme of singalongs and party games. The house mother carries a weapon and feels free to beat anyone who defies her authority. That sounds peculiar but in the mid-20th century it was common for medical staff to lord it over their patients like public school prefects. ‘Don’t you cheek me,’ she barks, ‘or you’ll get a taste of the twitcher.’

The show is presented with all nine actors on-screen throughout, and they natter and witter non-stop. Perhaps the aim is naturalism, but it makes for stressful viewing. Off-screen there’s a yapping mongrel, Ralphie, who adds to the bothersome sound effects. At random, one actor will crank up the mic and talk over his bantering rivals but the speeches are often inaudible because the rest of the cast are rabbiting too loudly.

This is a reminder that many afflicted by depression or agoraphobia regarded lockdown as a kind of blessing

None of the elderly characters has anything wise or profound to say. A woman recalls the first time she saw a man naked, ‘when he tried to get me down on a hotel bed’. A Welsh character tells us: ‘From that day on he was never a great talker, was Aled Llewellyn.’ It’s not clear why that statement is worth writing down, let alone putting in a play.

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