The first in a series of live digital productions Called ‘The Remote Read’, produced by Curtain Call. All productions feature a full creative and technical team collaborating remotely.
Saturday evening, no travelling necessary, a glass of wine in hand and the count-down begins to a production of a Tom Stoppard forgotten play. In 1966, the same year Stoppard’s breakthrough play Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead was staged, his short play, A Separate Peace was produced on television. It now reappears triumphantly with a cast of five in our living-rooms. But this is live digital theatre with all the excitement of knowing the actors are performing at that moment, just as in the theatre. Except that the director, Sam Yates, and the technical staff have brilliantly used a quartered screen to tell the story of John Brown, played with irony and mysterious emotion by David Morrissey.
Mr. Brown appears at a private hospital with a case-full of money and the determination to take an emergency bed. The night duty nurse, Maggie Service, fails to stop him. The Doctor, Denise Gough, aroused from her bed, fails to stop him and even the Matron, arriving in the morning, played by Stoppard’s, son, Ed, fails to stop him. The problem is that there is nothing wrong with Mr. Brown, as he freely admits. He’s just looking for a bit of peace and quiet and what better place than a hospital for an all day rest in bed?
It is a clever choice of play for our times, as well as being a clever play which it certainly is. Those of you who saw Stoppard’s most recent play, Leopoldsdtadt, a family saga play following Jewish history over six decades and climaxing in an emotional resolution based on Stoppard’s own life story, will find this a total contrast. Running at thirty minutes, is recalls some of the mystery of Harold Pinter’s plays, without the menace. Witty, surprising and ultimately asking big questions. Why should someone want to drop out of the world?
At a time when many of us are being forced into that route, or something near it, the question has a particular resonance. What is wrong, when you’re rich enough, to pay for the privilege of doing absolutely nothing? The hospital staff are certainly more than suspicious. Is he a bank robber? A madman? Or something even more dangerous? And however can they get rid of him?
The answer lies in the fifth member of the cast, the young and very pretty, Nurse Coates, played by Jenna Coleman – a long way from her role as Queen Victoria. Where all officialdom fails to discover Mr. Brown’s secret, her sweetness and charm melt his determination. The first sign is his accepting paints and covering his walls with serene pastoral landscapes. Whereas the actors wear black and appear against a white background, arriving and departing in a dramatic, puppet-like way, John Brown now has a backcloth of peaceful hills and clouds.
His secret when it comes, is about his past, a childhood visit to this very nursing-home, a four year period as a prisoner of war, which he describes as ‘like breathing out for the first time in months.’ The camp reminded him of the hospital – in a good way. But all good things come to an end and Mr. Brown has given too many clues to the lovely Jenna to remain invisible. Soon his family are on their way to find him and he, leaving at night as unexpectedly as he arrived, is on the way out, leaving behind a taste of something interesting, entertaining and very up to date.
A Separate Peace is the first in a series of live digital productions promised by Curtain Call, under the heading (rather oddly) of ‘The Remote Read.’ I am certainly hooked and looking forward to the next. Profits will go to theatre workers suffering under the pandemic and to the Felix Project food charity.