Scotland’s National Theatre turns its attention indoors with a poignant series of isolation vignettes
The National Theatre of Scotland has long enjoyed its status as a ‘theatre without walls’ – a collaborative organisation without a stage of its own. For this reason, and the fact of its public funding, the NTS’ sees its Scenes for Survival series of short, socially distanced monologues filmed in isolation as a responsibility and a means of continuing freelancers’ employment and audiences’ identification.
The first six of more than forty pieces offer an ironic proliferation of those walls the NTS has previously disregarded. In each, a first-class trio of writing, directing and acting talent combine to show what life is like under lockdown from within the performer’s own room.
Novelist Jenni Fagan’s film – Isolation – is about a woman coping with coronavirus. Director Debbie Hannan has made it into a Trainspotting-like withdrawal scene, with Kate Dickie’s gripping performance making visceral the pain of losing human connection.
Another short – Clearing – by writer Morna Pearson sees a comically eyebrowless teen girl (Ashleigh More) adapting to life between two parental households, while writer Stef Smith’s The Present touchingly shows Moyo Akandé prepare an unseasonal Christmas celebration for a disconnected companion.
Creators who we may not know principally from the theatre deliver some of the most satisfying moments of this selection. For example, the comedian Janey Godley (widely known for her viral overdubs of Nicola Sturgeon’s daily press conferences) writes and performs a sweetly tender film about a woman stuck in her home with a controlling husband.
The crime novelist Ian Rankin shows his famous detective John Rebus’ lockdown experience as that of a vulnerable pensioner taking comfort in music, feeding the dog and receiving groceries from his long-standing partner Siobhan. The story’s poignancy and humour is drawn out by a dream team of actor Brian Cox and director Cora Bissett.
The most affecting few minutes here, however, are an excerpt from Frances Poet’s play Fibres, in which Jonathan Watson’s former Clyde ship worker reflects on the beloved job that poisoned him with asbestos. It is a prescient vignette about the dangers of the shared air we breathe.