Shakespeare. Theatre. Press Nights. These are all concepts we are familiar with but in this unprecedented time of COVID-19 lockdown, for a moment we were unsure how theatre would survive.
Enter The Maltings Theatre! Last week I had the opportunity to attend their opening night of Twelfth Night, via ZOOM. As a performer and teacher myself I was familiar with the platform but for those who have not yet had the pleasure, ZOOM is a video conferencing platform originally designed for business meetings. It has features such as Speaker Mode where the person speaking will always appear the largest on screen or Gallery View where you can see everyone at once. You can mute yourself and turn your camera on and off whenever you wish. It is an interesting tool.
When I was told that this group was going to perform on ZOOM, I was intrigued. Sudden questions came to mind. How will the characters play off each other? How can transitions take place for exits and entrances? How will the scene be set?
As I logged in to join the performance I was welcomed by a message explaining that the ballroom was being prepared and we would be admitted soon. I loved that this was personalised to match the performance, very much like an immersive theatre foyer decorated to match the production. As we prepared to join the performance we were asked to change our ZOOM settings slightly to hide any non video participants and make sure we knew where the unhide and unmute area was as well as switching between the view layouts.
The performance began and we were all set up with our video and microphones hidden. As the actors began the show I realised how the usual entrance and exit (which is simply walking on and off stage) would be replicated. The actors seamlessly began to unhide and hide themselves in order of scene so they would appear to us when needed and disappear when they had exited.
Each actors’ window had a virtual background setting the scene on the SS Illyria and as the performance continued, the graphics always matched up perfectly with each other, clearly designed with great care.
Although the actors were not together (bar Lady Toby and Sir Andrew who live together and therefore performed in the same screen) their chemistry was engaging and it was clear a lot of work had gone into these transitions, handing each other items, passing through screens etc. One of the most interesting interactions was when we had two screens present with characters acting and a third window appeared as if we were looking down on the table and could then see hands reaching out and touching each other. It was a wonderful way to add physical contact into a piece that otherwise would show little to none due to their isolated performing spaces.
The pre recorded musical moments were the parts I was most excited to see and was not disappointed. Though isolated at home, the musicians played with a wonderful energy and the choice of modern songs sprinkled throughout the show really brought the storyline forward in time to create a more modern feel, a feat which is not always easy or well done with Shakespeare.
The actors themselves later discussed the interactions and rehearsal space and although most had worked together before and performed a version of this play, Flora Squires who played Viola has never in fact worked with anyone on the cast or crew so it was extremely interesting to see how she created a relationship with the rest of the actors virtually.
The final piece that really brought this project to life and succeeded in achieving a small part of the ‘performance feeling’ you get in live theatre was the audience participation. Will Pattle who played the energetic Fabian took charge communicating with the audience and helping to bring us into the performance space. At moments we were asked to unmute and reveal ourselves and switch to gallery view. Suddenly you could see all of the people you were sharing the experience with and it really brought a new energy to the show. Hearing others cheering, clapping, laughing and sometimes chatting when they shouldn’t be (there are always a few) really transported you into a new realm somewhere between sitting in the rows of a theatre and sitting at home in front of your computer.
The Maltings Theatre has managed to create a new performative style, one which I believe may continue long after lockdown ends as an alternative approach to performance. If you are missing your theatre fix you should definitely jump on for this performance and make sure to bring something yellow to have on screen with you (just trust me!).
A beautifully energetic, 1920s (online) setting with modern music and an ensemble that have proven, actors and creatives can adapt to any environment when they have true talent and passion. This is a performance you won’t want to miss!
Tickets are £10 and the performance runs every Friday until 10 July https://www.ticketsource.co.uk/ovo