It is an undeniable fact that lockdown has led to a lot of online content. As a result, it is completely understandable if you’re a theatre fan suffering a certain amount of square-eyed weariness these days. The answer is to, perhaps, find short bite-size performances you can enjoy without investing a huge amount more screen time or emotional energy. Chalk Roots Theatre neatly fulfil this need with their Out of Control series of micro-play Youtube episodes. The project brief, a response to lockdown, has provided a mixed bag (in a good way) of six works between 5 and 15 minutes in length.
The first episode is Tara written and performed by James Viller. It’s a celebration of art and family in toe-curling orgasmic detail. It is an eyebrow-raising tale told with a raconteur’s relish. The pop-art visual effects will either charm or irritate you, but there is no denying their impact.
Episode 2 Duex Femmes is written by Rosie Nicholls and powerfully asks if anyone is watching while things crumble around us. Laura Pulos gives a perfectly sound performance but given the anger she embodies at times, I longed for her to move from behind the constraining desk set up and smash something up more literally.
Episode 3, Urban Foxes by Judy Upton opens wonderfully with actress Jessica Kinsey lit by a sole naked flame. The intensity is maintained in the writing and strong imaginative direction throughout. It rattles through its ten-minute story of dysfunctional youth brilliantly.
Episode 4, Mangle continues the clever direction with a winning combination of zoom meeting and bathroom mirror self-reflection. James Viller returns arrestingly in Peter Gardiner’s twisted take on human anatomy. Take note, Gardiner’s vocabulary is a bit graphic so best to avoid watching while you are eating.
The Bus Ride written and performed by Laura Sophie Helbig makes for an engaging Episode 5. It is a straight-to-camera monologue about venturing out during lockdown performed with suitably nervous energy.
Finally, other than an epilogue which is essentially a project trailer, we have Continuers by Benjamin Holter. Set in the near future, this is an online Q&A session for the ‘continuing community’ who choose to stay in lockdown despite the rest of the world returning to normal. Despite this strong central conceit and a valiant attempt at fun characterisation by Jonny Gill, the Q&A format lacks dramatic intent. It is the only one of the pieces that, although only seven minutes long, feels slightly stretched.
Overall, the Out of Control project is worthy of your attention. Urban Foxes and Mangle, in particular, reach beyond the obvious limitations of online delivery to share something that feels dynamic, performative and, yes, theatrical in form. Director Saulius Kovalskas helms each piece to give a sense of consistency over the whole affair. The attempt at a wider framing device is not entirely successful. A ‘watcher’ character (Jonny Gill) watching along with us is as clumsy as it sounds – an unnecessarily and intrusive distraction. If you are the kind of person, though, who would happily head out to a fringe showcase or scratch night in the real world, Out of Control’s six short YouTube clips will feel familiar and welcome. The pieces are online now, to be enjoyed at your leisure either individually or as a whole.
Written by: James Viller, Rosie Nicholls, Judy Upton, Peter Gardiner, Laura Sophie Helbig, Benjamin Holter.
Directed by: Saulius Kovalskas
Produced by: Chalk Roots Theatre