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 post-lockdown (direct)
Once lockdown#1 fully kicked in it became impossible for theatres to carry on in the usual fashion. Actors could not meet to rehearse or perform and audiences, of course, were not allowed to attend anyway – at least until some respite was allowed in the form of outdoor performances. And so, playmakers took to technology using the likes of Zoom to rehearse and their computer cameras and even mobile phones to record the results. The end product, sometimes surprisingly sophisticated, was then uploaded onto platforms such as You Tube and Vimeo. One very useful alternative at this time was Scenesaver, a platform used to curate such pieces, and indeed all four nominees’ work in this category is still available there – click here
About 500 The very first recipient of an OnComm commendation was an early adopter of the new way of doing things. The play had originally been intended for the Vaults Festival in London but lockdown intervened. Swiftly repurposed by writer/director Simona Hughes, the play went online to finish its preparation and was born just a few weeks later. The analogy is ironic as this is a play about fertility and the pressures on women to heed the passing of time. Fortunately, the tangible rapport between the three actors in the piece had already been established and helps with the assured delivery. This high concept play would fully come alive on stage but this recording is a good substitute for the time being. My full review is here.
Breathe This play by Neil Bebber was first performed in 2019 and reimagined for online performance with the same actor and director. It is a monologue piece which, for fairly obvious reasons, became the go to genre for many playmakers in lockdown. It deals with the subjects of homelessness and abuse although not in the expected style. Jordan Bernarde is eminently watchable and although it is a solo performance he has a couple of interesting co-stars which are put to good use to flesh out the story (you’ll need to watch it to get that reference). As the author observed in an interview, online theatre came with at least one advantage; the play was watched by 500 people in only four days – highly unlikely in “real” life. My full review is here.
This Evil Thing Although this sounds like the title of a Hammer Horror movie it is fact a play about a little documented aspect of the First World War. It examines the plight of the Conscientious Objectors who refused to join up or be conscripted into what they saw as a state organised killing machine. The play centres on the real Bert Brocklesby who endured all sorts of torment rather than compromise his principles. He is played by Michael Mears of Essential Theatre who also performs all the other roles – about 50 of them – with simple changes of costume and the introduction of some basic props. Mears also filmed the whole performance himself in his own home, using a mobile phone to achieve the end result. My full review is here.
Within Also using a home location was Stephen Smith of Threedumb Theatre. This one definitely is horror based; Joseph Furey’s script concerns a young man in the near future who downloads an app which starts to take over his life. It’s a creepily realised piece which uses some cleverly designed special effects without resort to specialist equipment or editing. Initially the play was performed as a livestream onto Facebook and later released as a video – even so what you see is what happened live. This “one take” approach was a brave attempt to replicate the liveness of the theatre experience something which, by then, we were all sorely missing. 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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