During lockdown 3 and with live in-person events still a few months off, it appears the online theatrical experience has broadened out into three strands. There are the streams (both archived and live), the made for zoom and there is the interactive. Over the past year, I’ve seen countless works across the triptych. Streams are functional but by-and-large a little dry (the live ones at least have the frisson of things potentially going wrong); recorded zoom works have just made me wish I was bingeing another Married At First Sight: Australia, and so it has been left to the interactive pieces to provide the highlights of my starved theatrical diet.
So it’s no surprise that it’s an interactive piece that provides the highlight of the Virtual Best Of BE Festival 2021 online tour, that last weekend came to the SW in partnership with Tobacco Factory Theatre and Circomedia. Francesc Serra Vila’s Recall (☆☆☆☆) was a 15-minute one-on-one experience that connected the performer to his audience and then stretches its gaze to a wider community. In a lockdown where isolation feels more pertinent than ever, where even friends have started to appear like strangers, there was something poetic in sharing memories and dreams with a stranger and listening to fragments of life from another, a person that we will never know but been privy to their thoughts and dreams. Vila’s face is never seen, just his gloved hands and warm Spanish tone, a home-made space becoming a memory bank. He asks us to talk for four minutes about our day yesterday, our initial awkwardness (because who has enough content right now to fill four uninterrupted minutes) bleeding into something deeper. Like therapy, as we talk, description turns to thought turns to feeling. This uninterrupted stream of consciousness becomes fragments cut out, to be shared with another. I came out feeling as though I’d had a cathartic experience.
If the second in the double bill Shen Shui (☆☆☆) brought by Edurne Rubio and Maria Jerez can’t quite scale the heights of Recall, it is because it’s offering a passive experience. Using everyday objects from home to paint a landscape without paintings, it brings the sound of nature into the confines of home. It plays more art installation than theatre, and though technically highly impressive, it immersed me while failing to move me. Peter Brook talks about all you need to make Theatre is one actor, one spectator and a shared space. Digital has allowed that space to increase in distance but the transaction between the actor and the spectator still must happen. If the work occurs without the audience shaping it in some way than it lacks the vitalness that makes theatre such a powerful art form. Rubio and Jerez were exploring these ideas as a theatrical piece before translating the commission for digital and I hope to see it in person one day, maybe during the Festival 22 tour.
Not a formal review as I caught it in a dress rehearsal but Sharp Teeth theatre company has had a hit over the past few months with its version of Sherlock In Holmes: Murder At The Circus (playing until the end of March). Like all smashes, it now has a sequel Sherlock In Holmes 2: Murder On Ice. A highly interactive, cracking couple of hours with brilliant improvisers gently pushing its audiences into the right areas to feel like we do deserve to wear a deer-stalker and puff on a pipe. I’ve not had a more enjoyable theatrical experience since lockdown.
Best of BE Festival https://befestival.org/tour
Sherlock in Holmes: Murder At The Circus: http://www.sharpteeththeatre.org/