Writers: Matilda Ibini, Melissa Dunne and Sarah Grochala
You wait all lockdown for some live online theatre shows, and then blow me!, like buses they all arrive at once. The Electric Dreams Online Festival is running live shows for the next three weeks while last night Bare Essentials and Papercut Theatre went head to head in offering live shows to online audiences. While it was the third event from the Bare Essentials crew, Papercut’s show, streamed live through Zoom, is its first dip into the online ocean. Papercut may want to rethink its format as the three plays are accompanied by long intervals where nothing happens.
Rather than showing the three short plays back to back, each play has its own start time: 7.00, 7.30 and 8.00pm. No play is much longer than ten minutes and so in between the audience is left to entertain itself, watering the garden or doing the washing up. These gaps make the online event feel patchy and unstructured, and it’s too easy to become disengaged.
However, Papercut have also upped the ante of live shows as two of the plays involve an actor reading a script for the first time. A letter by Matilda Ibini is the more successful, and although Kelechi Okafor stumbles a few times, it’s exciting to watch her make sense of the narrative; she’s only a second or too ahead of us. Ibini has also come up with a great first line that immediately draws in the audience: ‘I think I’m in love with a Tory’.
It may be a funny start but this play, written for My White Best Friend And Other Letters Unsaid for the Bunker Theatre, is full of rage. Written especially for a woman of colour, Ibini’s play charts the struggle her character has in coming to terms with the fact that her best friend voted Conservative in the 2017 election. It may be the angriest Dear John letter you’ve ever heard read out loud.
Sex & Violence, written by our host Melissa Dunne, is also performed sight unseen( Annice Boparai), but comes across more as a speech than a play. It tackles the thorny problem of violence – consensual or otherwise – than can accompany sex. Do women really enjoy rough sex or have they been brainwashed by the patriarchal society to believe that they like it? Because Dunne’s play lacks a driving narrative and because it only asks questions, it seems like a snippet from a longer play where the themes of S&M could be examined in more detail in the same way as Everybody Cares, Everybody Understands, her play for the VAULT Festival this year, explored mental health.
The final play Little Mermaid by Sarah Grochola certainly doesn’t lack drama, but we are not always sure where we are. The play begins in Odessa where Rusalka meets an Englishman and it seems to end in Basingstoke, the town of roundabouts. Grochola’s script is full of poetry, but sometimes this makes the narrative unclear. The best thing about the play is Grace Chilton who sits so close to her laptop that we only see her face, and the tears that begin to stream down it. She gives a chilling performance of a woman torn apart by an obsession.
With most theatres remaining closed for the time being, let’s hope that Papercut Theatre return with another edition of online plays soon. And hopefully without the intervals.
Runs until 30 July 2020