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 (significant edits)
As the first lockdown progressed it became evident that content being created would have to start from the premise that it would need to appear online. And so, as theatre always does, innovation started to blossom and playmakers and companies began to find new ways of presenting “product” whether this was reclaiming material and reimagining it for the brave new world or starting from scratch with the online experience firmly front and centre. Techniques borrowed from the world of cinema were particularly in evidence. The four nominees in this category started to push the boundaries of what was possible and encouraged us all to feel that there was life in the old dog yet
Birdsong Online The Sebastian Faulk’s First World War novel had been dramatized by Rachel Wagstaff and presented by The Original Theatre Company onstage back in 2018 to mark the 200th anniversary of the end of the conflict. What started as a simple plan to carry out a Zoom rehearsed reading soon morphed into something far more ambitious with actors filming themselves at home in front of green screens and then the whole being edited together (there’s an interesting documentary about it, Home Made, on their website). The result was a huge online hit for the company who have since gone on to tackle plays set in space and in Victorian England. The play is not currently available, but OTC have revived it periodically. My full review is here
Midnight Your Time Like just about every other venue, the Donmar Warehouse looked to raise funding during their period of closure and this play was their way of doing this. It is still online and, hopefully, still raising donations (click here). This is a monologue piece by Adam Brace about a mother trying to communicate across the ether with her unresponsive daughter. It skilfully captures the moment when, last year, we all started to use video conferencing apps as our means of communication, but it also says so much more about strained relationships. Diana Quick plays the mother and, as it was shot in her own home, she is also credited with costume, hair and makeup design; DIY theatre had arrived. My full review is here.
Rose I learned in my interview with author Martin Sherman that the part of Rose was originally conceived for Maureen Lipman many moons ago. One plus of the lockdown, then, was that we finally got to see her magnificent portrayal of the octogenarian survivor. Through her personal testimony we learn about the character’s own life and some of the big world events such as the Holocaust which informed the Jewish experience in the last century. This co-production from Ginger Quiff Media and the Hope Mill Theatre in Manchester initially only streamed for a few days but was such a success that they kept bringing it back; it recently resurfaced on Sky Arts TV. Maureen Lipman was created a dame last year; here’s why. My full review is here
Wait For Me Solo pieces and filming remotely were joined by a third way of producing theatre as actors and creatives came together in bubbles so that they could freely intermingle and perform together in one location. This was the chosen method of Sam Cassidy’s gloriously tender and marvellously evocative dance piece. The story line is simplicity itself but the wealth of emotion and the sight of people actually being able to connect was enough to bring a lump to the throat. The piece ran for six weeks via Facebook but is currently not available (though there is a trailer here which will give you a flavour). Unfortunately, I did not see it at the time so have not reviewed it though I have been lucky enough to catch up with it since
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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