Theatre in lockdown: amidst this unsettling period for the arts, writer Tracy Harris and the Royal Welsh College of Music & Drama’s acting graduates bring original and pioneering theatre into our homes.
Picture the scene. It is 2018, two years prior to the pandemic. I am at a lively Gate Theatre in Notting Hill, having just watched a number of brilliantly talented RWCMD acting graduates perform a collection of new writing. Fast forward two years later and the setting is somewhat different. I am sat on my bed; dinner at the ready and eyes fixated on my laptop screen. I am watching eight of the 2020 acting graduates perform in the same new writing festival but this time the stage takes the form of their own homes. What clearly hasn’t changed under this unusual setting is RWCMD’s ability to produce some of the country’s best acting talent, as well as the Welsh conservatoire’s determination to produce new and innovative ways of storytelling.
Set on an online rehab course spanning ten weeks, Ripples sees eight strangers all suffering with some form of addiction confront the traumas of their past and recount these experiences to the group. Tracy Harris deals with the difficult topic of addiction with great sensitivity, giving way for sprinkles of humour as well as hope. Originally meant for the Sherman Theatre’s stage, the play’s adaptation for screen is innovative and wholly original. The weekly sessions take the form of a ‘Zoom’ meeting, and participants join from their respective rooms in the rehabilitation centre.
Without revealing too much, we see some wonderful creativity in the staging of the production. Matthew Holmquist’s sure direction not only allows the play to run smoothly, but the impeccable timing of individuals joining and exiting scenes (or their Zoom meeting) really plays into the ‘liveness’ of this event. Describing the performance as a ‘play-reading’ would serve to disparage the care put into creating this albeit virtual but very real narrative space. Holmquist’s clear direction, paired with tactful performances from his cast allows the audience to empathise with, and become wrapped-up in the characters’ stories. Ripples proves that it is possible to make high-quality theatre under these current constraints, with the immersive tech surprisingly running with ease, as though the play was in fact made for this digital setting. There is no doubt that Matthew Holmquist’s work with The Other Room, Cardiff, has made him the perfect fit for breathing lively and engaging narrative into such small, confined theatre spaces.
The creative team behind Ripples has produced a piece that sets a leading example to other theatres and theatre companies worldwide. They have proven that during these unprecedented times, Wales can still be a frontrunner in the world of new writing, standing shoulder to shoulder with its inspiring work in the ‘real world’.
You can catch the RWCMD acting graduates on demand until 16 May at https://www.nationaltheatrewales.org/ntw_shows/ripples/
12 Plays in digital spaces:
National Theatre Wales and Sherman Theatre will work together with a range of independent companies and artists to produce play readings, showcasing the talent of playwrights, companies and creatives across Wales.
The partnership will enable Welsh directors, actors, and designers to be fully supported and funded to deliver the readings, while providing a platform to share homegrown work, alongside contemporary classic titles that may yet to have been performed here in Wales.
Find out more here: https://www.nationaltheatrewales.org/ntw-projects/network/#network_projects