I recently heard a song on the radio, written last year, which was filled with lockdown clichés. I instantly had a moment of concern that all the art I consume in the future might feature jokes about walks and Zoom calls. As a result, I approached this show with some trepidation, not wanting another stereotypical look at lockdown. But my earlier fears can be dismissed, as An Isolated Incident is a breath-taking piece of storytelling, that does not shy away from the heart-breaking truths so many of us have faced in the last year, yet still avoids cliché. There is one mention of banana bread, but I will let that go.
Actor and playwright Kenny Boyle has written all six episodes of An Isolated Incident, which he is gradually releasing on his Facebook page. His ability to create fully formed stories that evoke a strong emotional reaction within just a few minutes is genius. The combination of these exquisitely performed tales, accompanied by gentle videos and stunning soundscapes, creates a polished and poignant experience.
Each episode is tender, thought-provoking and affecting, but Cherubim and Werewolf are particularly striking. In Cherubim, performed by Natalie Clark, Boyle beautifully describes the way in which nature eventually reclaims objects at the end of their life. The manner in which this theme is re-introduced at the end of the story, following a startlingly upsetting revelation, is deeply moving. Accompanied by slow video images of landscapes and stunning music, this episode is raw and heartfelt. The depth of feeling that Boyle conveys in such a short space of time is truly remarkable.
Werewolf, performed by Gillian Massey, raises the issue of domestic abuse and the increased risk to victims during lockdown. Massey’s carefully understated performance conveys the sense of desperation of her protagonist, as Boyle’s chilling writing moves her slowly from optimism at moving in with a partner, to horror as his true character is revealed. Boyle’s comparison of the abuser to a werewolf, how his behaviour comes out at night, is disturbing. This transformation is aligned with the visuals moving from sunny to dark and menacing landscapes, whilst the silencing of the music powerfully emphasises the true horror of the situation.
The final episode of this collection of stories, Orpheus, compares events of the last year to figures from Greek myths. It is at this point that, I have to admit, I realised that these references probably appear throughout the episodes, and I’d missed them, as my knowledge of classical literature is limited. But the links are made explicit in this final section, comparing the early lifting of lockdown restrictions to Icarus flying too close to the sun, or to Cassandra who could see the future but was never believed. The music and imagery here are jarringly optimistic compared to the others, and the language is both reflective and hopeful. Although this positivity about the future is welcome, at times it feels a little like a party-political broadcast. Having said that, the writing is moving and emotive, forcing me to reflect on how I’ve coped over the last year.
The real star of all six episodes of An Isolated Incident is Boyle’s writing skill, which should be celebrated. Additionally, tender and moving performances by all the narrators and the high production values of this collection elevate it above another living room/lockdown theatre performance. The stories are troubling, at times upsetting, yet have an overarching theme of real hope. I left my laptop with a sense of calm and optimism, despite the tears on my cheeks.
Written by: Kenny Boyle
An Isolated Incident is available for free on Facebook. Episodes 1 – 4 are currently online, with two further episodes due to be published shortly.