A Northern theatre company is pioneering a new way of bringing performances to the people after the Covid-19 pandemic closed venues. Elysium Theatre Company is presenting The Covid-19 Monologues – five plays performed by actors across the country with socially distanced camera operators, directed virtually by Elysium artistic director Jake Murray.
The monologues range from 10 to 40 minutes long and will be free to access on Elysium’s YouTube channel Elysium TC. They are being uploaded every two days from September 30thth – October 9th.
The plays will see some familiar faces taking part, including Shobna Gulati – famous for her role as Sunita Alahan in Coronation Street and as a panellist on Loose Women.
Shobna, who has rehearsed from her home in Oldham, said: “Like a lot of theatre companies at the moment, Elysium is reacting to the lockdown, and part of that reaction is moving online to create work.
“Many of us in the performing arts have had to diversify and look for ways to be creative online, the potential is exciting, and might push us all into new areas of creativity.
“Even if we have the all clear on Covid-19, online work may well become an ongoing part of what theatres and other companies do.
“When you’re hit by a curve ball you have to make your weakness into a strength. We shouldn’t see working online as a negative, but an opportunity. Theatre has survived wars, plagues and collapses of civilisation in the past – it goes back thousands of years.
“Shakespeare wrote ‘King Lear’ while forced to work outside London due to the Plague. Wonders can be forged even in dire circumstances! It’s exciting!”
Shobna will star in The Art Of Being A Solution, written by Hamza Rafique, playing Preeya – a right-wing political advisor and racial gatekeeper.
Speaking about this role she said: “We are living at a time in which issues of race, culture, ethnicity and nation are probably more extreme than they have been for the decades.
“With Farage, Brexit, Trump and the importance of the movement for the fact that black lives matter, it feels like we are in an age of ferment. Things could go in any direction.
“Hamza has written a play which takes all of this on directly. In Preeya, he’s captured the Zeitgeist. He’s created a portrait of a woman of great political power and charm who, at the same time, is riven with contradictions. It’s a fantastic part to play and I am looking to forward to how it is received.”
Elysium was founded in 2017 by Jake, who now lives in Durham, and actor Danny Solomon, based in Manchester, to produce the best of the world’s theatre and make it accessible and affordable for everyone.
This is something Shobna also feels passionate about. She said: “The North of England is full of theatrical talent, not just here in Greater Manchester but all over.
“But still the North, and regional arts in general, are still seen as second best to what is going in London.
“It’s not true – we are just as good and have exactly the same passion. So it’s great to be working with Elysium and bringing all this northern talent to the public eye.”
Jake Murray, son of the late famous theatre director Braham Murray, said: “This project is a response to what is happening now, with Covid-19, both with the plot themes and the way we are producing virtual, socially distanced, theatre.
“What has been interesting is that this has been such a creative time, we have been busy throughout the whole pandemic trying to adapt what we do.
“We had to think ‘how do we create work?’ and this is the way to do it.”
Elysium has brought highly rated productions to stages in Durham, North Shields, Hexham and Manchester. The most recent, Look Back In Anger, was cancelled in March due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
But the company has adapted, and Jake remains positive about its future.
He said: “In the absence of live theatre this is the way to go. We don’t know when we will be back into theatres, so we need to think about new ways to do things – live streaming, open-air theatre.
“We are all trying to be positive. It is a lot easier for small companies like us to be adaptive, we are not building-based.”
The five monologues will also feature famous faces including Edmund Dehn, known for Knightmare (1987), Speed und er and Judge Minty and Paul Herzberg, known for My Week with Marilyn and The Honourable Woman, and about to star in Eastenders.
In order of release they are:
Sept 30 – One Of A Kind by Rachael Halliwell, performed by Sarah Boulter: a reporter in the North East gets a job at a care home during Covid-19 to be close to her father.
Oct 2 – Push Yourself, Slightly by Chris Dance, performed by Amy Gavin: meet Jane, Professional Demotivator, who will help you realise some of your dreams.
Oct 5 – The Moth by Paul Herzberg, performed by Victor Power: a chance encounter on a train twenty years ago between a black British man and a white South African casts a shadow decades later.
Oct 7 – Sugar by Mike Elliston, performed by Edmund Dehn: Bristol 1721,The Reverend Harcourt struggles with his conscience as he is asked to write the sermon at the funeral for philanthropist and slave trader Sir Edward Colston.
Oct 9 – The Art Of Being A Solution by Hamza Rafique, performed by Shobna Gulati: Preeya, Right Wing political advisor and racial gatekeeper, sits her child carer down to put her right on politics.