This showcase of Freshers’ talent, produced by Bailey Theatre Company and Green Door Theatre Company, with four unique plays, is charming and light, a relief in the unrelenting seriousness of real life at the moment. It is admirable that all the actors have the confidence to perform is such dire circumstances, especially in their first year at university, and it is interesting to see the different takes on using zoom as part of the action, rather than trying to ignore it as just an inconvenience. But there is no way of avoiding the fact that this is an awkward format.
Each play is of a typical sketch length, around ten to fifteen minutes, and with this format a tight structure or plan is needed in order for it to work. None of them have this exactly, but A Really Good Plan by Frank Garland certainly has the most natural progression and makes the most sense for a short comedy. The premise: a Zoom call between a brother and sister is interrupted by an unwelcome guest and the ATM robbery they were planning is exposed. Quite simple, and the characters work well, with Thomas Warner as the intruder Mark and Ellie Boyden and Arthur Drury as the siblings.
A Novel Idea by Allie Costa is a play about the founding of a book group over Zoom between for work colleagues. If done correctly this could have worked well, but unfortunately, this sketch is just a little boring without enough content to fill ten minutes. Miriam Mitchell, playing the character of Debra, constantly looks down at her script which is quite off putting considering this relies heavily on the realism and the natural situation. I really like Gabi Gorden as Arrietty though, and I think her character is the one which comes across as distinct and entertaining, while the others have certain traits but are never really fully realised.
Gorden is also in King F***ing Lear by Colin Waitt, playing Shakespeare’s wife Anne. This sketch has a similar feel to the BBC comedy Upstart Crow which was on a couple of years ago staring David Mitchell, the premise basically being Shakespeare reacting to quarantine. There are some funny moments, James Bailey as Shakespeare is especially entertaining, if not completely convincing, and Gorden’s wry comments to her unruly daughters behind the camera made me laugh. The Sparknotes-esque summary of King Lear is slightly embarrassing and the uncomfortable Zoom pauses are all too realistic, but all-in-all this idea is different works quite well in the format.
The play which premiered on YouTube was Agents Howard and Ridge by Rory Leahy. It works as sort of a tongue-in-cheek parody of action and spy adventures; the suspense and seriousness being purposefully undermined by the humbling Zoom set up. To this end, it has a strange, anti-climactic ending, which fizzles off slightly awkwardly, and while this is supposed to mimic a typical Zoom call, it makes for strange watching. Arthur Drury also features in this set, staring as Agent Howard alongside Agent Ridge played by Abi Charlton. Their dynamic between them is good, although they underplay the comedy sometimes, and the interruptions of Rahim Hussain as DarkLord42069 are amusingly unthreatening.
All of the talent showcased in these plays shows promise, and hopefully when everything is open again there will be the opportunity to develop it with a live audience and unrestrained interaction with the rest of the cast and crew. It is free to watch on YouTube, and instead they are asking for donations for Durham Action on Single Housing, which is an admirable goal and one that shows they are truly carrying on because of their love of theatre.
Image: Freshers’ Play 2020