BWW Review: UNPRECEDENTED - EPISODE FIVE, BBC iPlayer
As part of the BBC Arts' Culture in Quarantine initiative, Unprecedented is a series of 14 plays written by a diverse group of playwrights; conceived, produced and performed during lockdown. Episodes one to four were broadcast on BBC Four, with the final episode released exclusively on iPlayer.
Episode 5 begins with Everybody's Talkin, written by Chloe Moss - a sensitive and poignant look at a conversation between a mother and her three daughters, who all are concerned with her wellbeing. With delicate writing and excellent acting, this is a bittersweet and tender portrayal of a conversation between family members that reveals a huge amount in ten minutes.
The magnificent Sue Johnston is wonderful as the mother: grateful for the attention, but brought to the brink and exhausted by her daughters and their well-meaning attention. Johnston is warm, open and utterly believable. She is stoic, managing valiantly without her husband, but is ultimately lonely despite her online connections.
Rochenda Sandall is calm and unflustered as Rebecca, advising her mother to try online Pilates to connect to the emotion stored in her hips. Denise Gough is irate as Liz, snapping at the inane conversation about a baked potato and wanting to delve into her mother's mental state. Rebekah Staton plays Cass, late to the call and castigated by her sisters. The conversation is spiky and believable. It's a beautifully pitched piece.
Nathaniel Martello-White's Central Hill is less successful. A director is attempting to save his film in the wake of the pandemic by valiantly trying to conduct rehearsals with his central couple. The actors themselves are struggling with both the script and their own situations, as they rehearse a story where they try to maintain a relationship over the internet in a world where ginger and toilet roll have become life's rarities.
All three actors are very good in their roles. Julian Barratt is nicely self-obsessed as the director, isolating in the basement of his house in his dressing gown. Abraham Popoola is natural, but a little overdramatic as one half of the acting couple, crying over his lack of money and overwhelming desire for KFC. Erin Doherty is strangely compulsive as the other foul-mouthed actor, who is clearly hating every second of her life.
However, the story itself lacks clarity and credibility, and so the very dark twist at the end lacks the necessary impact - despite very well-judged direction from Martello-White.
Jasmine Lee-Jones's dark Batshit is a black-and-white monologue where the global pandemic continues into 2021. As the world seeks someone to blame, a population becomes the target for the grief and fear of the world, leading to murder and revenge. Tinuke Craig's direction feels dark and claustrophobic, which fits perfectly with the narrative.
Kae Alexander addresses an unknown audience, detailing the fear and future of those who are now the targets. She is vehement in her desire to survive and expresses hope of fresh air and peace. As she speaks to those who pursue her, Alexander veers between pride, fear, anger and determination. It is a very good performance, but there is a question at the end over what she's actually tried to say. There is no real focus or conclusion - but perhaps that is the point.
Overall, Episode 5 continues the excellent initiative of Unprecedented. Everybody's Talkin is a particular gem.