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.
Audio theatre is a genre that leaves the imagination free to roam. As playwright Mike Bartlett has recently pointed out: “You can do a fully formed piece of audio that would be the same as if we weren’t in a pandemic. You don’t make any compromises.” While listening to a play broadcast from a studio has always been a popular activity on radio, the new technology has made splicing together the voices of actors in differing locations much simpler to do and the digital effects that can be used to enhance productions mean that we can travel to locations sadly prohibited in current circumstances. The four finalists in this category transported us to a variety of places and times
Contemporary Political Ethics (Or, How To Cheat) The Traverse Theatre in Edinburgh created its own online space, known as Traverse 3. It was populated with various product which might well have been encountered at the annual Festival, among which was a series of the venue’s traditional breakfast plays; this consisted of five pieces of new writing by young writers. Leading this particular pack was Jamie Cowan’s play set in a polling station on election day which was full of zingy and very funny dialogue and some first rate performances by a trio of actors. The play is not currently available but has surfaced on the Traverse website more than once. My full review is here.
Not So Quiet on the Welsh Front Front Room Theatre evokes the golden age of radio drama with this play about the fortunes of two sisters during wartime; one forms a relationship with a black American soldier while the other finds herself evacuated to Wales. Although this is essentially a straightforward narrative saga, important points are made along the way about families, prejudice and gender stereotyping and there is some impressive use made of sound effects which raises the bar for the production values. The piece also has a rather unusual narrator in the form of Humphrey – a teddy bear. The play is still available on You Tube – click here and my full review is here.
Rockets and Blue Lights The Lockdown Theatre Festival headed by actor Bertie Carvel aired four plays via the BBC, each of which had actually appeared briefly on stage just as the pandemic was ramping up. The Royal Exchange, Manchester’s production of Winsome Pinnock’s play had played a couple of preview performances and transferred remarkably well to an audio format. Being a play about the slave trade and colonial attitudes it was right of the moment as the other big news event of 2020, the killing of George Floyd and the #BlackLives Matter protests also began to dominate the headlines. The recording is not currently available but presumably the Royal Exchange will be reviving their production as soon as they are able. My full review is here.
The Barren Author Barnaby Eaton-Jones masterminded Spiteful Puppet’s six part audio comedy-drama which reimagines and updates the fantastical adventures of Baron Munchausen for a 21st century audience. The series is still available here. In a tour de force of characterisation, the near legendary Richard O’Brien brings all his talents to bear in creating a gallery of unlikely people to populate the Baron’s escapades which traverse the globe and even ventures into the afterlife. The series is beautifully realised through the outstanding sound design of Joseph Fox and the gate has been well and truly propped open for a second set of adventures. 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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