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Going the Distance review – local theatre tries to head over the rainbow in this digital production

The new play has been released online

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Emma McDonald in Going the Distance
© Dennis Madden and James Rees

My love of theatre was born in a few places – Solihull Arts Centre (where my brother appeared in an amateur production of Mame) and the Talisman Theatre in Kenilworth (where I appeared as the youngest company member in a new version of The Canterbury Tales), to a crowd of around 50 people. What united the two Midlands venues was that many of the productions staged there, featuring members of the local community were put on through sheer drive and determination. Which lies right at the hart of Henry Filloux-Bennett and Yasmeen Khan's delightful digital world premiere production, available from today.

Directed by Felicity Montagu (going from in front of the lens to behind it for the first time) with straightforward clarity and a watchable and lilting pace, the piece follows a group of local creatives tasked with resuscitating their local venue's financially precarious position by staging a play which, for rights reasons, definitely isn't The Wizard of Oz (there's a tin lion here, for goodness sake), but might be mistaken for it.

Montagu lets Filloux-Bennett and Khan's inoffensive, endearing characters do the heavy lifting – from hardnosed marketing expert Rae (a measured yet solid turn from Sarah Hadland) to self-conscious yet lovelorn writer Vic (Shobna Gulati, miles away from her appearance in the Everybody's Talking About Jamie movie), right the way through to the curmudgeonly director Frank (Matthew Kelly). The emotional heart of the play lies with undiscovered talent Gail (Emma McDonald), given the chance to have her name in lights as Dorothy.

The plot is full of pokes and jabs at our less-than-efficient Covid-tackling government but, more notably, never relies too heavily on such barbs – instead keeping the focus squarely on the Matchborough community and the lovely local theatre at its centre. Clocking in at just over an hour, this is the sort of cockle-warming evening entertainment that any theatre fan could lap up in spades.

Community theatre – an undistilled, unwavering dedication to the sharing of stories and the celebration of local talent – has been hit hard by the pandemic: in Going the Distance the road back to whatever normality we might find is shown to be as perilous and fraught as you'd expect given the last 19 months – but with a rosy hopefulness once the destination is reached.