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Review: Love In The Lockdown (online)

Rachael Stirling and Alec Newman star in the lockdown-related play

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
Alec Newman and Rachael Stirling
© The Telling

The constant creativity of artists trying to make work however hostile the environment has been one of the most cheering aspects of lockdown and it's resulted in some interesting hybrid forms.

This latest, from writer and musician Clare Norburn, TV director Nicholas Renton, and actors Rachel Stirling and Alec Newman is a cross between a TV romcom and theatre, with a bit of medieval music from Norburn's early instrument group The Telling thrown in. Based on the two episodes I have watched, it doesn't quite rise to being more than the sum of these parts, but it has a gentle sincerity that makes it fine to pass the time with.

The structure is original: short episodes (all filmed on Zoom) are being released on YouTube on the year-on anniversary of the day and time on which they are set. The March 4 instalment is the first tentative Zoom chat between Giovanni (Newman) and Emilia (Stirling) who have met at a dinner party the previous night. "The virus" lurks in the background of their minds; the nightmare is just beginning. The second episode, set at 6pm on March 5, which will be available from that time on that day, has the first death from Covid-19 in the news headlines. Lockdown is on its way.

Subsequent episodes – there are nine in total – are all due to be released in real time, a year on from 2020, until May 23, when the whole thing is available for viewing. The format asks that, like a TV soap, you become involved enough in the lives of the characters to care what happens next. It also deliberately conjures the antecedents of Boccaccio's Decameron, a work written after a 14th century plague about a group of people telling themselves stories to pass the time during an epidemic. This is supposedly the book that brings our 21 st century lovers together; her early music group is recording music from the period, he pretends he is writing a play on the subject.

The execution of all this is a little clunky. The conversations between the two of them work well but in order to convey information quickly enough, Giovanni has to wander round his house talking to us – his audience – in a series of monologues which are too obviously a way of filling in his thoughts and moving on the plot. He talks a lot, Emilia (at the moment) much less, and the playing of The Telling frames the action. It doesn't quite hang together.

On the other hand, Renton directs with practised fluency and the performances are appealing. Stirling so far hasn't had much more to do than look wide-eyed and slightly nervous, but she does this with great charm, and there are hints that her character's plight in lockdown as a freelance musician unable to work may open up in revealing ways. Giovanni is fantastically irritating and self- obsessed, but Newman, somewhat against the odds, manages to make him endearing. His story too looks as if it will twist in ways that will allow him to reveal greater depth and perhaps some truths about how hard it has been to survive lockdown in the real world. It's a drama that needs to raise its game to have any real impact, but only time will tell if it succeeds.


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