HomeAustraliaThe return of live Australian theatre suffers from a stuttering start

The return of live Australian theatre suffers from a stuttering start

These freshly commissioned snapshots of life during the crisis, featuring actors performing from their homes, will be livestreamed in three instalments over the next month. Given the profound difficulties the industry faces I really want to be encouraging about the first episode – but there were issues that cannot be ignored.

Recent events laid bare how deficient Australia is when it comes to recording theatrical performance. No one expects the quality of London’s National Theatre Live, but a subsidised theatre company should be able to produce something slicker than this.

Amateurish bloopers piled up even before any actor appeared on screen. Viewers were emailed the wrong Vimeo link. Countdown music stopped and started without warning. Director Bridget Balodis’ intro referred to the COVID-19 crisis as “more like a seismic shift than a sudden earthquake” (surely a tautology).

The monologues themselves had histrionic potential that was initially marred by extended buffering and visual lag which made the whole thing look as if it were being broadcast from the Moon.

On a second (and crystal clear) viewing, though, writing and acting talent were obvious, offering a sincere and affecting attempt to embody the complex psychological rigours of lockdown.

Daniel Schlusser portrayed a frustrated clown, cut off from his audience, speculating desperately about whether he performed an essential service. Sophie Ross convinced as an overburdened paralegal working from home amid an uptick in insolvency cases, while musing on the ethics of corporate drudgery.

And Henry Tseng, as an anaesthetist on the front line of the war against the virus, vividly sketched the stress of anticipating public health disaster, as well as the relief of “the best anticlimax we could have had” after the effectiveness of our nation’s response became clear.

Problems with The Lockdown Monologues make their own case for a response: urgent and targeted government funding to help theatre companies adapt.

Theatre is challenging to capture on screen (even London’s National Theatre Live can’t always translate the magic of the real thing, as its recording of A Streetcar Named Desire with Gillian Anderson demonstrates), but it must be done if we’re to allow our stories, and Australian experiences of this crisis, to be shared through live performance at this time.

These snippets are a small step in the right direction.

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