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'I've traded rehearsal room for bedroom': confined creatives' lockdown dramas | Stage


An intensive care doctor reflects on a week on the Covid-19 frontline, a lonely woman wonders when she will next eat a meal with company and all Anya wants is some space for herself in the bedroom-turned-office she shares with her boyfriend. These are some of the scenarios – familiar from the news or from our daily experience – in a set of new lockdown dramas released online on Monday.

Actor and writer Danusia Samal launched her Virtual Collaborators series last month with nine short films, written and directed during the lockdown by creatives who have found their other projects put on hold by theatre’s shutdown. Five more films have now been made available. Samal’s own Me … Me opens with a Sanskrit proverb: “If your expectation for connection is not met – that’s when loneliness strikes.” The film follows a day in a confined life, from a morning scroll through social media in bed to Netflix, home exercise routine, TikTok lols and dinner.

It’s performed by Iniki Mariano, who said the project has been “a heartbeat in the silent graveyard of what felt like a dead industry”. For Mariano, it was unlike any other acting gig. “We found ourselves having to be more than what we thought our roles were – for me, this meant being DP, sound recordist, continuity supervisor and wardrobe mistress … It has certainly made me more aware of the machinations of film-making beyond the actor’s perspective, and I am sure has made me a better, more appreciative actor.” The piece’s director, Atri Banerjee, said that working from a distance was “an interesting challenge” but that the process had reflected the film’s themes of alienation. “In the film, it’s almost like we’re watching the protagonist from the perspective of her computer and phone screens.”

Two of the short films consider life for medics during the crisis. The People Under the Moon is the first script written by the actor Anjli Mohindra, who played Nadia in the the first series of the BBC’s Bodyguard. Her piece, The People Under the Moon, directed by Hal Chambers, asks how to find intimacy in a time of social distancing and features Gwilym Lee as a junior doctor. Ryan Craig’s monologue Proof of Life is directed by Harry Tennison and stars Zoe Zak as an intensive care doctor who is recording a message for a judgmental family member with whom she has an acrimonious relationship. It charts her quest for control and peace in her personal life at a time of huge professional stress, when sick patients have died alone without the comfort of their family’s presence.

Nalân Burgess’s comedy Good Connection? is directed by Hana Keegan and has an ultra-relatable scenario in which the fraught Anya (Olivia Dodd) finds her personal and professional lives colliding. She attempts to be businesslike with colleagues while also Zooming her mum and sharing her space with her boyfriend (Priyank Morjaria). All she really wants is a Pret lunch and some time to herself.

Burgess said that when theatres closed in mid-March it “led to an abrupt end to rehearsals for a show we had been working on for weeks and a complete lifestyle change, trading in the rehearsal room for my bedroom: laptop life and even constructing a desk, the actor’s nemesis.” Like some of the other Virtual Collaborators, she has written one film and acted in another. “During such an emotionally turbulent time, it has been so comforting to connect with other caged creatives, working on two projects, one as an actress and one pushing myself out of my comfort zone as a writer, happily occupying several hours of lockdown life.”

How we spend the extra time that may have become available to us during lockdown is explored in A Birthday Wish, written by Frances McNamee and directed by Ellie Hurt. In the lead role, Joseph Adelakun looks back on a day watching Power Rangers and eating cereal on his own. Shouldn’t he be writing his novel, he asks, while also reflecting on his need for daily human interaction, even if it’s just at the supermarket checkout.

Samal was inspired to create the drama series when the Guardian invited her to contribute an idea to an article proposing an “action plan for theatre” after venues were closed by coronavirus. “Mental health is as important as physical in this trying time,” she wrote. “We need to stay creative – that doesn’t have to be alone. Technology can keep us collaborating remotely.” Hers is one of an explosion of online theatre projects to have emerged in the last six weeks. For his series We Will Not Be Silenced, playwright Brian Coyle is penning short monologues about life during the pandemic, which have been self-filmed by actors. Eight have been made so far. The writer and actor Jasmine Naziha Jones has dreamed up Open Soap, an improvised supermarket sitcom created by actors and comedians in isolation. “So far we have six episodes and enough submissions for a pretty wild story arc,” she says.

Me … Me director Iniki Mariano recommends the benefits of collaborating remotely during the lockdown. “We truly are more powerful together. That idea you might have, that story you might have always wanted to tell, or that desire to make something even though you have no clue how to start, you don’t have to do it alone – all you have to do is find another creative, and ask!”

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