A Small Gathering lets us into the lives of three people living separately under lockdown. As the characters are left alone with their thoughts, their minds create a disturbing reality, built on the foundations of quarantine anxieties.
Ad Infinitum’s online short film opens with Mr Pink’s neurotic experience of lockdown, where he appears to be trapped both inside his home and his mind. Nir Paldi’s erratic expressions are the highlight of the piece, as we begin to see the effects of isolation taking its toll.
Without a traditional stage to perform on, A Small Gathering relishes the opportunity to use cinematic techniques to tell the story. Director, George Mann, successfully mimics theatrical spotlighting to create an eerie darkness surrounding Mr Pink. The audience immediately understands the character’s physical and emotional disconnect with the outside world. The editing also makes clever use of layering different scenes onto each other to present us with Mr Pink’s inner struggle of his clashing personalities.
Throughout Mr Pink, messages of advice from the government flash onto the screen alongside an air raid siren. This dystopian interpretation of public health messages perfectly conveys how threatening they can feel to us, rather than being words of advice designed to keep us safe.
Despite each piece being filmed remotely in different settings with different actors, the three stories tie together well in this anthology of solitary experiences. The pieces are united through their use of common rituals of lockdown, including hand washing, tea drinking and simply waiting around. In Rewilding especially, the repetitive, sudden close-up shots of these actions successfully portrays them as the neurosis they have become for many people.
All of the pieces regularly use close up shots of the characters’ expressions to help us understand their feelings. This intimate connection between the characters and the audience is a clever reflection of the close contact between friends and family that our society has lost over the past few months.
Rewilding makes excellent use of emphasising sound effects to reinforce the daily sounds we have grown used to, and also grown fearful of. The sudden camera pan and extreme close-up of Deb Pugh’s face after hearing a disturbingly loud cough is a scene likely familiar to many.
There is no reference to the characters’ backgrounds. We know nothing about them other than this snippet of their lives during lockdown. Whilst I am left wondering whether I may similarly relate to their lives outside of lockdown, the fact that the audience can empathise with the characters so quickly is accurate of the shared experience of the pandemic our global population is facing.
The third piece, Cynthia’s Party, sees Cynthia excitedly slip back into her childhood world of a dolls’ tea party. The use of smooth camera pans around the dolls’ table help us feel as though we are surrounded by dolls ourselves.
Cynthia’s party also makes excellent use of a soundtrack. A series of tea cups clinking against the table creates an inventive beat that conveys the monotonous rhythm of lockdown that we have slipped into. The later key change of the jazzy, upbeat track guides us through Cynthia’s nightmarish tale as we begin to grow more fearful of the dolls, and ultimately see Cynthia’s downfall.
Whilst A Small Gathering may not offer us the escape from reality that theatre generally does, it succeeds in helping us process our new lives under lockdown. For a piece that would have felt otherworldly to us a mere six months ago, A Small Gathering’s use of bizarre storylines perfectly captures the anxieties that our nation is experiencing.