BWW Review: UNPRECEDENTED - EPISODE FOUR, BBC iPlayer
As part of BBC Arts' Culture in Quarantine initiative (partnering with Headlong and Century Films), 14 plays were filmed and produced during lockdown to reflect the diversity of experiences and emotions that are being felt across the world.
Episode 4 begins with Deborah Bruce's Kat and Zaccy, which looks at how family loyalties are tested as children with divorced parents must choose where they stay during the lockdown. This well-observed play expertly pinpoints the side of the mother who feels she has been abandoned and the child who says he cannot come home.
Alex Lawther, best known for his role as James in The End of the F***ing World, is quietly exasperated by his mother's behaviour. He tries to calm and placate her, peacefully advising her to check her temperature and try to make peace with herself. His platitudes fall on deaf ears, and the internal debate that Zac is having with himself comes to the fore as Lawther shows increasing frustration and guilt.
Monica Dolan is very convincing as his mother, blatant in treating him to unsubtle emotional blackmail so he will come home to be with her during lockdown. She casually rants at him, quoting Shakespeare to highlight his supposed abandonment of her and making him feel uneasy when she starts to cough.
One excellent thing about this series is the insight it seeks to provide into the lives and situations of others. The Unexpected Expert by Matilda Ibini delves into one of the consequences of the pandemic for disabled people. Saida Ahmed plays Roxy, a disabled Influencer who is being told her care package is being cut to help provide care to others who need it at this time. Golda Rosheuvel plays the council employee explaining this to Roxy, wanting her to understand and accept the situation.
What is clever about Ibini's writing is how she makes clear that Roxy understands the situation all too well, as she dissects the Government policy and attitudes towards disabled people and the belief that their lives are expendable. It is indeed thought-provoking, but perhaps a few minutes too long.
Ahmed is natural and candid as Roxy, with a direct clarity to her delivery. Rosheuvel is calm and patient, which works well for the delivery of the play, but is perhaps not the most realistic portrayal of a harried council worker at the moment.
Finally comes The Night After by Josh Azouz, who earlier in the year had a revival of his beautiful play The Mikvah Project at the Orange Tree Theatre. Two grandparents are making a video recording for their granddaughter to watch at some point in the future about their lives during the pandemic. However, this is no comforting bedtime story or touching memory for the child.
This surreal play has odd, dreamlike segments, where the couple, played by the brilliant Kathryn Hunter and Marcello Magni, begin by talking about their daily routine, which quickly morphs into confessions of exhilarating sex, Greek gods and lots of toast. Hunter is darkly comedic and often confessional, touching on her anorexia and alcoholism. Magni speaks less, bizarrely sitting with a saucepan on his head for part of the play.
The synergy between the couple, played by actors who have been together in real life for 30 years, is clear. They know each other intimately and yet there is also a coldness between them. It's a lot for Azouz to fit into ten minutes; weird, but also strangely compelling.