Covid-19 Monologues Vol 3 – Elysium Theatre

Reviewer: Helen Tope

Directors: Dan Bradford / Jake Murray

Writers: Rayna Campbell / Rachel Creeger / Philip Meeks / Chris Neville-Smith / Hamza Adam Rafique / Elijah Young

Filmed in response to the challenges of the pandemic, the Elysium Theatre Company’s Covid-19 Monologues offer multiple voices and perspectives on a shared experience.

Commissioned by Artistic Director Jake Murray, these short films include a Zoom debrief on a political scandal (Ask Me Anything); 53-year-old Maggie searching for a new career online (Cyberspace Dreams); a binman playing sleuth as local pets are murdered (Blue Bin Day) and a woman contemplating her fate (Dandelion).

The camera – whether an actual presence or imagined viewpoint – becomes a vehicle for confession. These talking heads range from an affable Everyman, bin man Craig (played by Chris Connel), to a chilling, Ozark-ian performance from Jacqueline Philips as Beatrice in Dandelion – the self-proclaimed “bringer of joy”. The multiplicity within this series is impressive – we are taken from the familiar frustrations of the pandemic (furlough, Zoom meetings and how to make it all mean something), to wider questions on truth, accountability and where – even in these strange times – the line has to be drawn.

While the monologues take place during and after the pandemic, within the chaos and uncertainty, there is a reassurance that our ability to adapt still allows us to communicate. The online forum in Ask Me Anything is a remove enough for Lucy (a social media guru turned political activist) to take difficult questions on a series of events that move through scandal to tragedy.

The perception and application of time links throughout these monologues. Beatrice reminds us the concept is man-made. Her piece, illustrating the almost imperceptible passing of hours, is book-ended with some ponderous Satie. Chris Neville-Smith’s Ask Me Anything recounts events that have already happened, although we are left to piece together the timeline. Maggie, talking to us from 2021, reminds us that lockdown was not exempt from the social media lens. People on Instagram lived their best lives, while others struggled with isolation. As Maggie gets sucked into a Neverland of get-rich schemes and online coaching, she questions the nature of success and what it actually looks like. Cyberspace Dreams’ Orline Riley as Maggie is warm, engaging and tells it like it is – in the best possible way.

Dandelion is the most successful play at treading the line between comedy and drama, perception and reality. Written by Philip Meeks, the confessional aspect of the monologue kicks off right from the start. Beatrice discusses her husband – by her own admission – a man with “a feral flair”. Meeks’ script (very reminiscent of Alan Bennett’s darker work) takes us in and out of focus: we are never sure who or what Beatrice is talking to.

It is the ability of the pandemic to unsettle and unsteady everyday life that really underpins this series. Stories are left unresolved, open-ended. While the characters may learn something about themselves, the world around them seems in a hurry to get back to business as usual. With the workings of (failing) systems exposed, the pandemic poses not one question but several. Not least: has our perspective changed for good?

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Multiple perspectives on a shared experience

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