One thing the pandemic has highlighted in the theatre community is the prevalence of accessibility. Those of us who in the before-times would regularly attend plays miss seeing living, breathing drama unfold before your eyes, and sharing this experience with a like-minded audience. But the remoteness of this memory for us is for some people a reality for their whole lives. Whether due to economic, health, or geographical reasons, it’s an unfortunate fact that theatre is not made for everyone, and it can’t be seen by everyone.
Open Sky Theatre have made a bold endeavour to redress this balance by filming five Microplays. These are short digital plays made to be accessible to anyone and everyone, no matter their race, sexuality, ability or economic background. Not only are they distributed for free through the readily available medium of the web, but the stories they have decided to tell feature a diverse range of characters. The different writers for each piece were asked to address the theme of ‘cultural polarisation’, a prescient topic for a time where our differences seem to divide us more than they ever have done.
First up is The Ceremony, a clever twist on the ‘vows’ a couple give at a wedding. Writer Iman Quereshi, through this neat idea and the deep characterisation of these two people, we are given in a short space of time, a powerful, heartbreaking but positive conception of the ending of a relationship.
The second microplay is called Head over Wheels by Matilda Ibini. As a disabled person myself it is refreshing and uplifting to see a disabled character who is not just a ‘sexual being’, as people so often like to call us, but is straight up horny on main. The play finds a lot of humour in the abrasive tension between the two women, and again in such a short space of time and with dialogue, the writer sketches out two very lifelike and likeable characters.
The next microplay, Homework, is more of a surreal diversion than the other plays, incorporating sound, editing and music in service of its sharp humour. Despite the outrageous nature of our main character, Phillip, he resonates with us; there is a smartarse like him in every class. This play accomplishes the difficult task of being funny about climate change without being too gloomy or didactic.
Another of the microplays, The Importance of Being Honest, depicts the job interview from hell. From such a simple idea, the play finds much to say about the power of prejudice in even supposedly liberal spaces, and how many people see a failure for someone to declare their ‘otherness’, whatever that means, as a betrayal. The two interviewers are excellently imbued by the actors with an indignant evilness, and the moment when Iris stands up to them is full of cathartic glory.
Though the microplays tell vastly different stories, their thematic and tonal simulators allow them to be greater than the sun of their parts when watched together. Each play is slick, performed well and articulate so much in such a short space of time. If a project is attempting to cross over to a new theatre audience, I’m glad it’s one as fresh and high quality as this.
Open Sky Theatre’s microplays are available to watch, for free, at https://www.openskytheatre.co.uk/microplays