Writer: Clare Norburn
Director: Nicholas Renton
There have been plenty of Zoom plays over this year of lockdown, but perhaps none so classy and assured as Clare Norborn’s episodic series, just starting now on YouTube. Tracing a new relationship between two people in March 2020, Love in the Lockdown is also a stark reminder of what we were going through, as a nation, this time last year. Perhaps now we can only begin to value what we have lost.
In the first episode Giovanni and Emilia are having a quick chat on Zoom arranging their first date. They met at a mutual friend’s dinner party; they got on well; they talked all night. Giovanni, a wonderfully awkward Alec Newman, is eager to meet her again, but is a little confused with Zoom etiquette, throwing out of sight the untidy papers behind him, wanting to make a good impression on Emilia, who arrives late to the Zoom room.
She calls from her bedroom, but is a little breathless and distracted. As Covid cases rise in Britain, some of her work has been cancelled and she’s trying to organise an overdraft with the bank. She’s played by the undervalued Rachael Stirling, and although, so far, she gives us no asides, like Giovanni does straight to camera, she still manages to give Emilia a vulnerability that seems unrelated to the news of the virus taking hold in Britain. On 4 March 2020, restaurants were still open, and the two plan their dinner date for later.
But if this story of a blossoming romance sounds too light and frothy, things turn darker in Episode Two, released on Friday 5 March, exactly a year to the day when Britain registered its first Covid death. Episode 3 is scheduled to appear on 23 March, a year to the day when Boris Johnson announced the first lockdown. A further six episodes are planned over the next few months with the last one intended for 23 May.
This romantic story may have been enough for some playwrights responding to the pandemic, but Norburn has introduced another strand to the plot, and a smart one at that. Emilia is part of a Medieval music group, and along with playwright Giovanni’s help, hopes to adapt a 14th Century text, itself a reaction to another pandemic, the Black Death. Boccaccio’s The Decameron is a collection of 100 stories told by young people, including Emilia’s namesake, while they spend time in quarantine. It’s a fascinating and an unusual parallel.
While it remains to be seen how Giovanni and Emilia’s version of The Decameron plays out, the references to the Middle Ages allow for the musical sections from Medieval ensemble The Telling which start and end each episode. Filmed via Zoom from the musicians’ houses, these musical pieces feel perfectly at home in a play that is ostensibly about today, but draws meaning from the past to shine a light on current times.
Sometimes Giovanni’s deliveries to the audience are a little cheesy, asking if we’ve tuned in to see what happens next, but after the cliff-hanger that concludes Episode Two, it will be very hard not to watch the rest of this thoughtful and sensitive series.
Runs here episodically until 23 May 2021