With all theatres closed and social distancing the required norm, playmakers have had to rapidly adapt and find new ways of presenting their work. Headlong Theatre are no exception and have risen to the challenge with Unprecedented a collaboration with Century Films on 14 short plays featuring over 50 actors.
The project was “conceived, written, filmed and produced in lockdown. Rehearsals took place over Zoom; props, costumes, lighting and set were sourced or made by the cast themselves, and the series was shot in homes across the country using digital conferencing technology”. The end results are now being broadcast on BBC iPlayer as a series of five programmes.
Most of the plays are about ten minutes in duration and punch well above their weight featuring writing by the likes of James Graham and April de Angelis and directed by, among others, Jeremy Herrin and Blanche McIntyre. The pieces range from farcical comedy to domestic drama, from creepy monologue to (very) mini-musical.
One of the most interesting, Fear Fatigue, is a (double length) take on verbatim theatre using the words of front line medical staff to paint their own frightening tale as they describe a system in free fall. At least five of the plays embody the most consistent theme which emerges, that of families and cross-generational attitudes as parents fret about their children and children worry about their aging parents. Other areas examined are the effects on those who are homeless and disabled, disenfranchised students, working life and relationships.
Many of the pieces make use of the technology with which we have all become oh so familiar (Zoom, Skype, etc) to get distanced characters interacting and there are many all too recognisable moments as things glitch, videos suddenly go dark and the sound crackles. In the work conferencing satire, Going Forward, these moments are deliberately used to shut down any dissenters from the boss’ stated purpose. While all this is very much of the moment, watching too many of the pieces back to back does reveals that this “go to” scenario does get a bit samey.