Blackeyed Theatre is another victim of the virus. Its production of Jane Eyrewas midway through a UK tour, and due to visit China for a month, when the pandemic shot its plans to bits. Last month the show was revived on stage and committed to film. Kelsey Short (Jane) leads a team of just five actors who tell the story as Charlotte Brontë wrote it.
The costumes, hairstyles and habits of speech seem authentically Victorian. The director, Adrian McDougall, has rejected the fashionable habit of presenting Jane as a rad-fem freedom fighter surrounded by grotesque male oppressors. His version reminds us how sympathetic the novel is towards men. Mr Rochester (Ben Warwick) is a romantic enigma, a dashing, grizzled buccaneer who is also decent, honourable and kind-hearted. Socially he’s a rebel. He exposes the hypocrisy of the marriage market by favouring Jane, a penniless governess, over the wealthy beauties competing for his hand.
When her nuptials are cancelled at the last minute, Jane is rescued from destitution by St John Rivers, a scholarly and idealistic clergyman who wants to travel east and convert Indians to Christianity. One theory holds that these two male figures are based on Branwell Brontë, Charlotte’s older brother, an imaginative but unpredictable alcoholic painter. Mr Rochester is Branwell drunk. St John Rivers is Branwell sober.
This is an absorbing, beautifully designed version that will please the casual viewer as well as the lazy student who wants to revisit the text without the hassle of moving his eyes across the page.
The Party Hop is an online satire set in a virus-ravaged future. Lockdown has been imposed for three long years and the new generation of young adults now believe that physical contact with those outside the ‘family bubble’ is abnormal. All professional and social interactions take place via Zoom. We meet three unattached girls, Ava, Nancy and Emma, who visit a series of online parties while getting sloshed on gin and soda.
First, a Zoom event hosted by Ava’s mother, whose screen is visited by half a dozen neighbours from her local block. Two newlyweds, Jared and Nettie, seem deeply in love but they keep muting their mic to have furious private arguments. Meanwhile, Vicki, a drunken mother of two, yells insults at her unseen children while quaffing Chardonnay and maintaining a fake smile for her on-screen friends. The three girls agree to quit this gruesome party using a secret signal.
Next, a student gathering which is hugely popular by comparison. There are 15 guests. Before they join in, the girls discuss their sexual expertise and Ava admits that she’s never been kissed by a boy. Nancy orders her to fill this gap in her knowledge immediately. ‘Tonight can be the night… Find a cute boy. This is going to happen.’ Ava accepts the challenge. Nancy’s advice is to ask her male friend to join her for a cigarette in a private chat room. ‘Why a cigarette?’ says Ava. ‘I don’t smoke.’ It’s a convention, explains Nancy. ‘That’s what people said when they wanted you to go outside in the olden days.’
Ava targets a handsome student, Jackson, and invites him for an intimate tête-à-tête. He agrees. But things get awkward. He doesn’t recognise Ava even though they attend the same Zoom classes. Nor does he understand the cigarette invitation. He decides that she’s weird. She makes a proposition, which he misunderstands, and he flounces out of the private room and returns to the party. She’s mortified and embarrassed.
Worse still, she must now describe the meeting to Emma and Nancy who are desperate to hear that she broke her kissing virginity. Ava furiously blames her friends for the disaster. And we learn, almost by accident, that the three girls barely know each other. ‘I’ve never met you in person, Emma,’ says Ava. ‘I have no idea how tall you are, I’ve never seen your feet. Why did you think I could kiss someone?’
This is an intriguing, neatly observed comedy that rewrites the classic tale of the troubled romance between a pair of confused long-distance lovers. It’s also a dire warning from the future. The writer, Natalie Margolin, asks us to imagine how society will develop if we’re forced to endure house arrest for ever.
The absurdities are hinted at but not hammered home. Ava’s dramatic aim — to kiss Jackson — is clearly impossible via Zoom. To make things more idiotic, Ava is in the United States while Jackson is hundreds of miles away in Canada. And yet they regard the Zoom room as a normal means of finding a partner and, presumably, starting a family. If this continues we’ll end up with the Victorian moral code that prevented couples from meeting in person, and even from touching each other, before their wedding night. We have been warned.
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