Theatre is just different organisms in close proximity. It’s a great image, and one of many that float gently to the surface in Ben Duke’s In a Nutshell, a monologue which explores with a marvellously tentative touch the nature of theatre, meaning theatre as it was until the pandemic struck.
The co-founder and head of Lost Dog theatre company, the director and choreographer takes centre stage, in the plush seats of the completely empty stalls, to talk us through the way theatre once was: bustling with excitement, the noisy arrival of dozens of strangers, the single and paired spectators, the groups ready for a good night out.
With quiet humour he covers a number of topics in just 16 minutes: red seats, drinks and snacks, strangers coughing, guest spectators, the mise-en-scène, close proximity and terrible rage. Towards the end he segues from the stage as a place of magic to scenes of horror, invoking Ancient Greek tragedy to discuss the fictionality of the drama, as well as contemplating the liveness of performance.
His amusing satirical attitude makes all this palatable, and memorable. Using the device of assuming that theatres have shut for good, and that a future generation will not have the least idea of what it was like to visit a venue, Duke coolly suggests that the loss of human connection might eventually be more infectious than Covid-19.
It’s both melancholic and funny. Filmed and edited by Rachel Bunce, written and performed by Duke, this is genuinely beautiful and immaculate show, one of the best streamed videos to come out of the pandemic.
In a Nutshell is on The Place Online until 22 October 2020.