Corona Daze – Hen & Chickens Theatre, London

Reviewer: Scott Matthewman

Writers: Alice Bragg & Lucie Capel

Director: Benji Sperring

It has now been four years since the start of the first lockdown in response to the Coronavirus pandemic. It was a bizarre, unsettling (and, one hopes, unique) time, one when there were so many uncertainties that it was as easy to go overboard with sanitisation as it was hard to stay home, avoiding friends and family.

It is in this situation that Alice Bragg and Lucie Capel have set their one-woman comedy, Corona Daze. Bragg plays Nicky, an estate agent in Norwich who finds herself furloughed and in lockdown with her husband and two young daughters – a family she is shocked to discover she doesn’t like very much.

Events play out as a series of video chats with Nicky’s mother – although we neither see nor hear the other party, immediately rendering such conversations unrealistic and taking us out of the narrative in which Bragg and Capel would have us immersed. Through these one-sided chats, Bragg reminds us of some of the events of the period – anxieties over toilet roll shortages, the urge to hoard canned goods, Joe Wicks videos and the brief popularity of the Houseparty voice chat app.

The problem with such reminiscence, though, is that it is already a situation which we have all experienced. There are too many elements that the script brings in whose mention is expected to be a laugh line in itself – the theatrical equivalent of a stand-up routine that relies on nostalgia alone without layering any jokes on top.

And while there are some weak laughs to be had, it is never clear whether Bragg’s character is the butt of the joke or not. Certainly, her initial concerns – how to cope with parenting her own children and cleaning the house when the nanny and the help are self-isolating – seem to be setting her up as a comic caricature of middle-class motherhood. But there is neither enough wit in the script nor enough reality to Bragg’s delivery for that aspect to work.

Instead, it feels as if the thin humour is a veiled attempt at scratching the writers’ particular itch when it comes to some aspects of policy in what was a very uncertain time. Nicky talks about Neil Ferguson as if we are immediately supposed to remember who he is (a senior academic whose modelling of worst-case pandemic scenarios was incorrectly framed by certain newspapers as inaccurate because the worst case did not, in fact, happen), and ends the piece with stats bombs about the decline in mental health that the prolonged lockdowns exacerbated.

The intent may be well meant, but it means that Corona Daze is neither scathing enough to be a sharp satire, nor funny enough to be an effective comedy. Instead, it comes across as a Daily Express editorial in stage form, full of selective framings designed to scare and upset the middle classes while ignoring the lot of people in much worse situations – but failing to do even that.

Indeed, nothing Bragg and Capel come up with matches the moment between scenes when we hear audio of a senior government adviser trying to save his job by explaining how he drove to Barnard Castle to test his eyesight. The truth is stranger, and more bleakly comic, than this particular fiction.

Continues until 25 April 2024

The Reviews Hub Score

Thin Covid comedy

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The Reviews Hub London is under the acting editorship of Richard Maguire. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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