Mini-Reviews of Online Fringe

Over August I have been watching online content. Not all of these shows are long enough to warrant the full Fringe Review experience but are good, and interesting enough to be talked about. Whilst the review criteria are the same, the brevity is a whole new experience. Anyhow, here are my thoughts on these shows. (The title of the show links directly to the show).

Rehearsal Etiquette by Swell Theatre (Online@TheSpaceUK)

This show features the director and cast of a musical, using Zoom for their first rehearsal. At only 15 minutes long, it packs a lot in.

It’s well written. The story and characters develop quickly, and with a surprising amount of depth. The humour is well crafted, the callbacks and running gags work to catch you by surprise, and make you laugh out loud. The off-stage character adds to the story, and is skillfully worked into the show. The writing draws on our familiarity with Zoom calls, reflecting real-life experiences and problems that we now take as the new normal, and it shows real talent.

Whilst it doesn’t have the budget and resources of the BBC’s Staged, there is considerable production skill on display. The editing is slick, the recreation and timing of the technical faults are seamless, and the sound quality is high.  Making something deliberately look glitchy, and timing 5 screens to look live is no easy job.

Overall this would be at the top end of Highly Recommended, and worth 15 minutes of your time.

Bookshelf Ballad by Anne Rabbit (Online@TheSpaceUK)

This is an evocative and moving piece of poetic storytelling. It’s filled with real feeling and moments of dark humour.

Using the titles from her bookshelf, Anne creates a pandemic poem, a series of snapshots. The music, vocals, images and video compliment the work. The piece draws you in, the accents and voices sound authentic and portrayed with resonance.

By using the titles of the books, the language captures the sense of disassociation and dislocation that these strange times are producing. Sentences don’t flow, as in normal conversation, but the meaning and experience are not lost. This is a very clever piece of poetic storytelling. It’s also Highly Recommended.

After/Before by M J Murphy (Online@TheSpaceUK)

Struggling with feelings of loss and detachment Alicia, waking from a vivid dream, is disorientated; is she awake? Then an unlikely companion offers an opportunity to find an answer … and perhaps a chance for the contact she craves.

Performed by Sophie Coward and Emily Heyworth, this play shows cleverness, creativity and offers much to think about. Using the confusion on waking as its starting point, it asks questions about consciousness, being and existence. It explores our relationship and reliance on technology, links to fundamental philosophy, presenting its own twist. The actors play their parts well. They communicate the subtext, showing the confusion, doubt and uncertainty. These points appear unexpectedly and catch us off-guard. There are also moments of genuine humour, some of which are subtly presented using small expressions. Something, that this medium allows, it’s noticeably different from a television’s or film camera’s view.

We are presented with three screens, two of which show Alice and one that shows the interface, this is a very clever use of modern technology. Seeing Alice from two points of view makes for an unusual, and thoughtful experience.

This is an interesting piece, it shows great potential in concept, writing, acting and presentation. Whilst the subject matter won’t appeal to everyone, for those who relish philosophical debate and dealing with uncertainty, there is much to like. It is recommended.

Detachment by A G Anderson (Online@TheSpaceUK)

A 10-minute drama, set in COVID-19 lockdown and inspired by real events, about lust, betrayal, revenge and tins of pain(t).

Here is a video review of the show.

Short notes; this is an excellent lockdown piece.

Although Detachment only has a 10 minute run time, it manages to get in a set-up, a middle and an excellent ending.

The show’s premise is that we are viewing two sides of video calls between a stressed husband and his pregnant wife. Due to his job, they are separated from each other. Then, something happens, pressure tells; disclosure, evaluation and angst follow.

Perfectly performed by Malcolm Jeffries and Gemma Wray, this tight script doesn’t waste a word, nor a moment, in the telling of the story. It’s clever, sharp and the characters are believable. Even in the 10 minutes they are on-screen, these could be people we know, friends or even members of our family. Wrapping the excellent script, and the great acting, with high production values and some subtle editing, Detachment warrants 10 minutes of your time. It’s very highly recommended.

Chris Arnold – My Life in Music – (Ludlow Fringe Online)

The show opens to the presenter, Chris Arnold, in a TV Studio introducing us to his life in music. The first point to mention is that this does not look or feel like a fringe show. The picture quality, sound and presentational style make it look like a made for TV production. The list of credits is long. This makes it more than a fringe show; the production, the credits, the equipment and editing take it out of Fringe territory and into made for TV so a full Fringe Review wouldn’t be appropriate. However, it is in the Ludlow Fringe festival so a mini-review is ok.

Chris takes us on a journey through various genres of music, with some puns, gags and light story-telling. What makes the show is the quality of the song parodies. Each song catches the tone and feel of the genre being lampooned, the lyrics are clever and are performed with gusto and energy. It’s great fun. Indeed the songs are so good that it’s not hard to imagine C4 tightening up the introduction and links, running the videos as is and putting it in a prime time slot. Spinal Tap for millenials, not quite but well on the way to it.

This show is definitely recommended, for its energy, joy, clever lyrics and its sense of fun.

Bye Mum by Ronnie Dorsey (Online@TheSpaceUK)

Bye Mum is the story of a lonely man saying his last goodbye to his mother at her care home. She is lost in a haze of dementia, unaware of Coronavirus and the terrible danger that surrounds us all.

Here is a video review of the show

Although this is only a 10-minute piece, this film packs a powerful emotional punch.

We see snap-shots from a man’s life; he goes about his front-line job on the bins, does his shopping, watches TV and eats his tea. He doesn’t speak, and there is no interaction with other characters. The narration tells the story sharing his thoughts, feelings and emotions. Through the voice-over we learn of the person his mum was, and what she meant to him. The love shines through.

Cleverly interlaced with this anonymous man’s daily existence are old home movie clips, which remind us that his mum was real.

But now, when she needs him most, he cannot be there to help her. His anger, frustration and sense of failure echo the sadness of his solitary life. As well as his loneliness and isolation, we experience his sense of loss. And see the cruelty of Alzheimer’s as it robs him of the mum she once was.

This is a touching, moving and emotional piece. It is never lachrymose or syrupy. It feels heartfelt and honest, as though borne of real experience. The shortness of the film doesn’t detract from its impact. It made me want to call my mum. It is highly recommended.