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  • Writer's pictureAlison Mead

The Understudy Play

Updated: Jul 1, 2020

The play began. The play ended and, one by one, the cast and I waved at each other silently and turned off Zoom. The wierdest end and, in some ways, the saddest to the premiere of a new play. My new play. My new old play. The very first one. I waited a little longer to enable the chat box to fill and began to read some of the comments. "Well written and well performed" was one. "This made for a remarkably coherent play reading." was another.

All good then, for this is theatre in Lockdown. No interaction between actors. And none between us and the audience. No bow. No applause. The strangest way to finish a production and no way out for the adrenalin.

The silence in my small house was deafening.

As the global pandemic seems to be lessening its grip, what can we expect for the future? What will happen now? Will theatre return? And if so, how much will it cost? Ticket prices are likely to soar as the number of audience members will have to be reduced in order to avoid infection. And the fringe - in London and elsewhere - is not going to survive all this. That will mean those just starting out on their careers have nowhere to "cut their teeth"and put into practise what they trained for.

And what about new writing? Will there be any?

For fringe theatre is seen as the home of new writing and there is nothing more exciting than seeing a play move from no budget to yes budget. A sign of faith in the work.

This, and the knowledge that every play that has ever been produced was once "New". Yes, even the Bard, who wrote Lear during a plague and moved into the provinces when London playhouses closed. Maybe Zoom is our new regional theatre in the new millenium.

For London is larger by far than in Shakespeare's day. During his glittering career, three plays a week was the average at the Globe and almost all London theatre -goers will have seen them.

And those audiences will have behaved exactly as present day audiences do. They talked. About the plays. The good bits, the bad bits, the sad bits and the happy bits. Because theatre enable us to fully understand ourselves. Drama "holds the mirror up to Nature" as Hamlet bade the players to do.

Because plays make us feel. And when we stop feeling, we stop living. The Greeks knew that only too well, which is why they all took a week out to watch plays in every town and city and paid their servants to see them too. No class divide in theatre. So now what?

The virus is still out there. Life will change, literally, into a new world. But we still have creativity. We still have imagination. And we must, above all else, put those elements to good use.

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