Review: A SEPARATE PEACE, The Remote Read

Show of the Week: Tickets From £30 for WITNESS FOR THE PROSECUTION

Show of the Week: Tickets From £30 for WITNESS FOR THE PROSECUTIONIf the "Word of the Year 2020" title were not as nailed down as it so obviously is, "Zoom" would have been in with a good shout, as we've all learned to use the app to meet friends and colleagues online from behind our locked down doors. So it was only a matter of time before the platform was used for a theatrical performance... or was it? The challenges of creating a Zoom play seem rather more considerable than those of creating a Zoom meeting (and some of us still find those quite tricky).

John Schwab and Matt Humphrey proclaimed that "The Show Must Go On... Zoom" and set about making that happen - you can read more about how they did it here. But the proof of the pudding is in the eating so, without further ado, nor any more clichés, did they succeed?

John Brown turns up at a private hospital in the early hours and, full of easy charm and the entitlement that comes with it, pays his way into a room with every expectation of being treated as a patient. He explains that, though perfectly well, he craves the institutional life that only a hospital can provide - the regularity of meals, the solicitous attention of nurses, the farming out of any responsibility for seeing to one's own needs.

The hospital struggles to deal with him - sure, they take his money, but he's a square peg in a round hole and nothing upsets as regimented, as hierarchical, as routine-dependent an establishment as a sleepy private hospital as much as a disruption to its predictable days, weeks, years. The very thing that attracts Mr Brown to his new environment is the very thing that he is disturbing.

Soon nurses are playing "Good Cop / Bad Cop" to find out if he has a criminal past or is conducting an elaborate fraud (which, in a way, he is). Not much turns up - except the one thing that does affect Mr Brown - the imminent intrusion of his messy, complicated, real life into his institutionalised bliss.

It all works (surprisingly) well! Theatre's greatest asset - its ability to make us suspend our disbelief - Zooms at us and within a moment or two, the familiar chessboard squares in which characters appear dissolve from our perception and we're doing what we always do in a blackbox space and letting the words and acting tell the story while our own imaginations fill in the gaps.

David Morrissey, an easy smile and passive aggressive greeting never far from his lips, gives us a John Brown with whom we sympathise a little (what harm is he doing, there are vacancies and he's paying his way), but there's always an edge. The medical staff have better things to do and he really should be looking after himself - shouldn't he?

Jenna Coleman, conjuring memories of Joanne Whalley in The Singing Detective, is the nurse who befriends Mr Brown and the two get along splendidly - both are happy to be there after all. But she is feeding information to Denise Gough and Ed Stoppard who play a doctor and matron who do not want this bump in the smooth road that paves their daily rounds. Maggie Service is on hand to show that not all nurses are quite as patient with the patient who isn't really a patient.

Sir Tom Stoppard's early short play was written for television and that probably smooths is translation to the computer screen as does the easy wit of the writing. But much of the credit goes to the director, Sam Yates, who has delivered something more than a scaled down TV play. It genuinely feels like theatre - at least to me, who appreciates set design, lighting and all that stuff, but is always primarily interested in the script and the acting.

There are parallels with a radio production of course, but, especially in the scenes between Mr Brown and his nurse, there's a jousting that one can see in David Morrissey's eyes and Jenna Coleman's demeanour that adds to the complexity of the relationship.

At the end I was left wanting to know what happened next to Mr Brown - a sign that a play has worked. But I was also left wanting to know when I could next watch a The Remote Read production because it may not be theatre exactly, but it's not bad. Not bad at all.


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From This Author - Gary Naylor

Gary Naylor is chief London reviewer for BroadwayWorld ( and feels privileged to see so much of his home city's theatre. He writes about ... (read more about this author)



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