Writer: Isley Lynn and the Company
Director: Milli Bhatia
Social distancing has been a boon for the anthology series, allowing theatre companies to create work containing multiple interconnected stories recorded separately and edited together to form a single piece of art. The National Youth Theatre’s Playing-Up Company is the latest to release a collectively constructed film of over 20 brief stories showcasing the talents of its cast. Written by Isley Lynn, Tiny Dancers takes an imaginative approach to the limitations of lockdown.
Running at around 70-minutes, like a lot of content produced in recent months Tiny Dancers is about connection and the consequences of losing contact with friends and loved ones. How this plays out across the individual scenes is inventive as Lynn and her cast think broadly about relationships and the different types of interaction that people could have, while director Milli Bhatia ties it together with some interesting editorial techniques.
There are plenty of stories that directly relate to the current limitations and one of the most nuanced involves two male friends on Facetime arguing about a suicide attempt, the one wearing a hospital gown (Jonathan Price) is lonely, urban and detached but is soundly chastised by his sweary family-man best friend (Mars Sams) calling-out his selfishness. “A car crash is hardly a cuddle” he bluntly exclaims, but beneath this surface lies a deep affection, even a mutual guilt, as they explore the disproportionality of Coronavirus and its impact on mental health. Even a slightly over-played dinner argument between a socially distanced couple (Oliver Brewer and Yasmin Twomey) has tones of reality as they strain to find commonality.
Some of the best sequences are not about lockdown at all, particularly a spoof hard man show starring “Russell Hemp” (Patrick Ashe) investigating illegal dealing on social media that leads him to an encounter in the woods, or a futuristic interaction on a screen of rolling algorithms in which a young woman (Cainan Farrah) has requested to meet a particular man online; is it a date or something more peculiar? A similarly enjoyable piece shows a couple (Alisha Dyer-Spencer and Leah Besson) connecting through the Love.Gov website, opening envelopes that reveal their compatibility. Brief but with more than a hint of Black Mirror, the story rapidly develops a meaningful resonance, while a social media influencer (Amelia Rodger) creates a fascinating video diary inspired by her grandmother’s belongings.
Bhatia’s work however does much to lift the scenarios and lock them together, utilising the separately filmed video footage to create seamless stories. One of the most impressive is a mini slasher movie that cuts rapidly between the aggressor and the victim in a way that emphasises the violence and escalates the tension – Hitchcock would be impressed. In several other places Bhatia films in close-up and rather than resort to Zoom boxes, moves between characters to create a sense of conversation and reaction or, in the case of a couple breaking-up, mirrors each other’s behaviour in side-by side activities.
Inevitably with a project of this nature, there are some less successful segments and variable performances that occasionally make the show feel a little overstuffed, some stories perhaps benefitting from more time to explore their ideas. Nonetheless, with some really smart approaches to filming and editing in particular, as well as a variety of intriguing scenarios, this anthology collection is an entertaining exploration of just how much we miss each other.
Available here until 31 July 2020