The OnComm is the Off West End Commendation which aims to recognise excellence in online theatre work. This award was introduced in May 2020 in the light of the lockdown arising from the Covid-19 pandemic. Following over 350 submissions and over 120 awards being made it was decided to group the shows into a number of categories and then select finalists and winners for an online ceremony on February 21st, 2021. This can be seen on official OnComm partner Scenesaver’s website (click here). The event is free to view but you will need to be registered. As part of the build up to the big evening, I’ll be focusing on each of the OnComm categories in turn and previewing the four finalists in each group.
Recording pre-lockdown (significant edits)
The rise in the last ten years of cinemas streaming theatre shows meant that, when lockdown started, there was a significant number of productions from some of the big players stored away as archive material which could be released online (although rights issues and performers’ permissions often had to be negotiated first). This category recognises shows which used multiple camera set ups and/or employed a range of editing techniques to achieve a finished polished result. In the spirit of Off West End’s remit, it does not include shows from the big production houses such as the National Theatre or those of the commercial West End.
Bubble Kieran Hurley’s play produced by Theatre Uncut was conceived as an online production before this actually became a necessity and by a timely coincidence it was released in the first week of lockdown. The play takes as its theme the whole business of non-platforming and consists of online exchanges between various students and staff at a university. The screen is a hive of activity with textspeak, emojis and the now familiar participant boxes and there is rapid cross cutting and editing which pulls the piece together. The playscript was released rights free so that others could create their own versions – a nice touch. This unusual and clever play with a mainly young cast is still available on You Tube – click here. My full review is here.
Cyprus Avenue The Royal Court had already filmed David Ireland’s blistering play during its theatre run and broadcast it via BBC Four in 2019. A rerelease via the venue’s website was quickly put in place at the start of lockdown and it soon gained a legion of new fans. It wasn’t an easy watch with its tale of sectarian violence and a shocking denouement which would thoroughly unsettle anyone. However, it was also screamingly funny and the central performance by Stephen Rea was acknowledged as a masterclass. It’s already won several awards in its original incarnation but, unfortunately, is not currently available to view; maybe the BBC will repeat it as it deserves to be seen. My full review is here.
Sea Wall Simon Stephen’s devastating monologue was first seen onstage at the Old Vic in 2008 and helped to cement the already growing reputation of the talented Andrew Scott. It’s a harrowing piece about fatherhood and loss with a supremely judged performance of power and subtlety. This filmed version was recorded in the wake of the stage production and was given a short period of free release in the middle of #lockdown1; it is still available to rent – click here. Although it is badged as a film, what we see was performed and recorded as one continuous take, giving it all the impetus and continuity of a stage performance. Scott, as ever is mesmerising. My full review is here.
The Encounter Although it was extended a little, Complicité’s “experience” was only initially online for a week; alas, it has yet to resurface. If it does then do seize the opportunity with both ears (!) Filmed at the Barbican in 2015 it is an almost impossible piece to describe as it works on so many levels and takes you into different worlds through an unprecedented use of sound – wearing headphones was pretty much an essential. And the visuals weren’t half bad either. Simon McBurney is writer, director, narrator, actor and at times his own sound technician. A term like tour de force can get bandied around lightly but this truly is one time its use is fully justified. My full review is here.
Hope you can take some time to have a look at these and read the reviews before the big reveal on February 21st. Good luck to all nominee finalists.
A full list of all the OnComm finalists can be found here
Further information about the OnComms (including how to submit a show for consideration) can be found on the Off West End website – click here
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For my Theatre Online list (suggestions and news of newly released online productions) please click here. This list is supplemented by daily updates on Twitter (@johnchapman398)
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