The theatre has unfortunately suffered in this uncertain time due to the inability to socialise, but the ironically named Not The Way Forward Productions’ forward-thinking performance of Richard II, directed by Dorothy McDowell, is a condensed, enjoyable demonstration of how theatre can be adapted and continued in a quarantined world. The show mixes Shakespeare’s language with modern influences and humour to create a brisk 50-minute production, pre-recorded on YouTube, and all completely free.
The story was told through recreations of Zoom-style chats between the characters, an innovate approach that had both strengths and drawbacks. It allowed for some inventive “staging”, so to speak, with a mix of chat sizes, locations and styles; for example, scenes were interspersed with more artistic sections of voiceover with all the characters staring at the screen, allowing the cast to create an unsettling atmosphere which matched the story of feuding and plots. On the other hand, there were some problems: it was unclear how the recording was captured but occasionally there would be slightly awkward gaps after one character spoke before the other replied. This was only a minor issue and certainly didn’t ruin the performance, but it did make some moments feel a little stilted. However, there was an interesting use of editing, with the cuts of seemingly random moments surprising the audience, as well as the use of strobe effects late in the production to change the atmosphere. Overall, the staging wasn’t perfect, but interesting and reflective of new potential for theatrical productions.
The acting was, on the whole, strong. Maggie Moriarty was excellent as Richard II, delivering a tense dramatic monologue near the end of the piece which was a standout moment, and reciting Shakespeare’s language with confidence. Maya Jasinska was also notable as Henry Bolingbroke, Duchess of Hereford, acting as a compelling villain who was surprisingly unnerving even through a virtual medium. The rest of the cast was also enjoyable, with some having much more screentime than others, but I enjoyed all the performances regardless of how big or small the parts were. I was slightly concerned initially as each Zoom call appeared to show the characters rushing around and getting clothes on, or packing suitcases, which did distract from the dialogue a little, but this stopped early on allowing the actors to use the format to its full potential. One other thing I maybe would have liked would have been to have the character’s names on their screens the whole time, as I did struggle to follow who was who even with their names appearing when they first logged on; however, this is again only a small suggestion that was outweighed by the strong performances and ideas in the play. Also, there’s a really cute dog called Odin.
It is admirable how much work and creativity can be put into a piece of theatre, and it is inspiring to see young people working together to keep the arts running at this time. Richard II is a performance that is not without flaws, but as an early piece of theatre in a new format, I applaud its boldness and willingness to try new ideas and move into a digital age. I wonder how this may affect the theatre of the future, especially since it is so nice to be able to access free theatre from the comfort of your own home, and it’s much more flexible. Of course, it cannot compare to sitting in a live audience and experiencing the action in front of you, but for now, this is a fine substitute, and I would highly recommend watching this production for a break from the real world and to see what the future of theatre holds.