“a missed opportunity to show what can be done with theatre online”
Ian Hallard’s new play Adventurous tackles a subject dear to many hearts—that of online dating. It takes place during 2020, so it’s not surprising that much of the humour in every scene arises from the enormous changes that a pandemic has brought to our social interactions.
Directed by Khadifa Wong; produced by the Jermyn Street Theatre, and starring Ian Hallard as Richard, and Sara Crowe as Rosalind, Adventurous follows a diffident pair of lonely hearts over several months from their first meeting during lockdown. Richard and Ros do manage to have one socially distanced dinner in a restaurant during more relaxed times in summer. But the relationship is resumed via Zoom again as the weather grows colder, and restrictions on activities increase.
A Zoom drama tends to focus attention on the actors, and rightly so. In Adventurous, Ian Hallard and Sara Crowe show a deft touch playing two characters who are, respectively, a secondary school teacher with a sexual problem, and a stay at home carer to a disabled sister (recently deceased). As the backstory to each character emerges, though, it seems like a miracle that they ever connected in the first place. In a life without lockdown, they wouldn’t have. This is apparent early on in the amusing misunderstandings between two people with very different experiences of life. And just as people’s descriptions of themselves on dating sites rarely measure up in “real life”, we discover that relationship hopeful Ros has also indulged in a smidgen of exaggeration in her profile. In fairness, it is a hope, rather than a lie, that leads Ros to describe herself as “adventurous” on the site that introduces her to Richard. But in truth, neither she nor Richard are particularly adventurous, and this is the rock on which both their budding relationship, and the play, eventually founder.
RIchard and Ros are pleasant company, but Adventurous doesn’t really catch fire until Ros’ curiosity about Richard’s soon to be ex wife Lois leads her to contact Lois on Facebook. And kudos to Katherine Jakeways for a lovely cameo as the abrasive Lois. For a brief moment, Ros does become “adventurous” as she confronts Richard’s abusive ex, and the experience changes her life. Sadly, it does not change Richard’s, although Ros plays an important part in helping him to find closure with the “exhausting” Lois.
Adventurous is a light hearted entertainment that will appeal to viewers looking for a situational comedy with accomplished actors. But it’s also a missed opportunity to show what can be done with theatre online. And viewing a comedy without a live audience is a sad reminder of how much we need the pandemic to end. Let’s hope it’s not too long before audiences can safely re-enter theatres.
Online via Jermyn Street Theatre and Guildford Shakespeare Company
Reviewed – 19th December 2020
“The spirit of Christmas present may have taken a holiday this year, and while this show doesn’t quite lure it back, it does remind us of our Christmases past”
On the day that Christmas was effectively cancelled, it is perhaps a natural reaction to want to seek refuge in some sort of seasonal escapism. ‘How the Grinch Stole Christmas’ or ‘Bad Santa’. ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ is another annual favourite. Something comfortingly familiar and predictable. Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” fits the bill perfectly. Written during a time when the British were re-evaluating themselves, its themes of transformation and redemption inspired, if not created, the aspects of Christmas we have grown to love; including family gatherings, festive food and drink, games and a communal generosity of spirit.
In the absence of that, the Guildford Shakespeare Company with Jermyn Street Theatre, are beaming their live, staged version of the story via Zoom, which allows a degree of audience participation. The technology, born of necessity back in March, still feels a little underdeveloped, but it does let the curtain rise on productions that would otherwise remain locked away in the dark.
Naylah Ahmed’s faithful adaptation pulls no surprises. We all know the story, which is its selling point, along with the two names in the cast – Penelope Keith and Brian Blessed who play the ghosts of Christmas Past and Present respectively. Keith displays her signature imperious disdain for the unreformed Scrooge with a deadpan, but slightly apologetic, sense of humour (“I am not a sir, sir!”), while Blessed’s distinctly unapologetic performance plays up to his own caricature. They are both a formidable and colourful presence. Jim Findley, as Ebenezer Scrooge, fails to react accordingly, and doesn’t seem to be too distraught that his night is disturbed by these uninvited and foreboding spirits.
Rallying round, though, are the three multi-rolling cast members who pick up the remaining characters. Robin Morrissey’s versatility leapfrogs from his Jacob Marley to Bob Cratchitt to Mr Fezziwig with ease, accompanied by the sparkly eyed Paula James as Mrs Cratchitt, Fezziwig and others. Paula James, along with Lucy Pearson, who has her own hamper full of characters, bring a lightness of touch to what is a fairly stolid and dependable narration.
Despite the commitment of the cast, they seem unsure as to who the audience is. Director Natasha Rickman seems to be steering them, perhaps against their will, towards a younger crowd. The sense of enjoyment is prevalent but at the expense of the magic and awe that this tale should inspire. The show features children from the Guildford Shakespeare Company’s drama clubs, in rotation, as the Cratchitt children, and it is a delight to see the relish with which the three young ensemble cast dive into their roles.
The spirit of Christmas present may have taken a holiday this year, and while this show doesn’t quite lure it back, it does remind us of our Christmases past and give us hope for those yet to come. But we want to toast the future with effervescence and this ‘Christmas Carol’ doesn’t have the sparkling warmth to uplift us fully. But ‘Humbug’ to that. The run is already sold out online so don’t listen to this old Scrooge.
Reviewed by Jonathan Evans
Photography by Ciaran Walsh
A Christmas Carol
Online via Jermyn Street Theatre and Guildford Shakespeare Company until 27th December