In an interview with the BBC’s John Tusa, playwright Tom Stoppard once mused that the reason he loved the medium of theatre was because of how ‘adjustable’ it was at every point, continuously growing and developing. The comment seems especially appropriate now, as theatre has been forced to adapt in ways we never thought possible, and it is A Seperate Peace, a Tom Stoppard play that kicks off a new series known as The Remote Read.
While theatre has been quick to respond to closures as a result of the global pandemic by streaming recordings of past productions, The Remote Read differs in that it is performed live, with a full creative and technical team working in the background. The money raised will help those in the industry who have lost work, as well as food charity, The Felix Project.
This short one act play, penned in the mid-sixties, was originally written for television, and once again the audience find themselves watching through a screen. The now-popular conferencing app Zoom allows our cast to make entrances and exits as they would on stage, all cued live by stage manager Georgia Bird. The background removal feature means that we are not distracted by the performers living rooms, although perhaps some more ‘scenery’ could have been employed.
Directed by Sam Yates, this comic drama introduces us to John Brown (David Morrissey) who checks in to a private hospital for no other reason than he wants to check out of the demands of everyday life. This presents Nurse (Maggie Service) and the rest of the staff with quite a dilemma, here is a man who can afford to pay for a hospital stay, but has nothing wrong with him medically.
His cosy conversations with Nurse Maggie (Jenna Coleman) provide clues which fuel the speculation spreading around the wards, and give ammunition to the Doctor (Denise Gough) to investigate this unusual patient.
Prickly hospital matron (Ed Stoppard) can’t quite understand why someone would simply want to do nothing, and encourages Brown to take up basket weaving or painting, the latter providing the only colourful backdrop in the production.
It’s all remarkably well done, the entire production running with the same kind of quiet efficiency that John Brown admires so much in his new abode. Although most of the actors work script in hand, they are well rehearsed and Yates’ skill guides the pace perfectly. This live stream of A Separate Peace is also notable for Sam Glossop’s sound design, which creates an oddly calming tension in the key scenes.
When theatre has been forced to change beyond all recognition, Stoppard’s one act play about a man desperate to isolate himself from his own family, life, and the outside world seems to resonate at every level. The creative team have gone to great lengths to prove just how ‘adjustable’ theatre can be, and as a result, The Remote Read’s A Separate Peace is probably the closest thing we are going to get to live theatre for the time being.