Although online theatre has definitely gone quieter of late there are still a number of pieces being released each week which clamour for attention amid the revitalised sector and which serve to help anyone with access issues (health, geographic and, especially at the moment, economic) to enjoy the art form. And we’ve now reached the stage where companies are able to follow up their pandemic product with “sequel” material. It was therefore with a degree of interest that I have recently checked out two such new productions.
One online series which caught my eye last year was Tortive Theatre’s Bard Heads (click here and here) where for successive weeks they livestreamed a set of six monologues based around an updating of Shakespeare characters but always with a twist. This year the company are revisiting similar territory with their new piece Naming The View which rhymes (sort of) with the title of one of the Bard’s plays. However, this one is slightly different in that it was filmed ahead of time though clearly on a stage. It’s also not quite like the others as the two performers of the previous monologues, Jules Hobbs and Richard Curnow, happily get to tell this story together.
It is set on panoramic Cleeve Hill in Gloucestershire and Kate has reached the top for a particular purpose, though this doesn’t become immediately obvious. She clearly has some regrets in her life and when we see her in flashback with her husband Pete it soon becomes clear where the source of her unhappiness lies. Trapped in an abusive relationship she has learned to suborn her own once fiery nature and tow a very difficult line. (If the title of the piece, the names of the two characters and that last sentence haven’t tipped you the wink as to which Shakespeare is being heavily referenced then I suggest you click here). Memories are further stirred by a randomly chance encounter with another visitor to the beauty spot. This is Horton (I admit it took me a while to get that one) who knew Kate thirty years previously and was once part of a misogynistic bet undertaken at a drunken episode at Kate’s younger and more favoured sister’s wedding. The reunited couple begin a new relationship which is purely platonic as Horton has a secret to confess. Kate trumps this with an even bigger reveal of her own and which I definitely didn’t see coming.
Hobbs and Curnow are clearly very comfortable working together and bounce off each other with ease doing justice to the latter’s script, especially the witty remarks that pepper the text. Although the two characters were clearly differentiated and portrayed well, it did seem odd that Curnow played both Horton and (in flashback) Pete; perhaps there was a point being made here about all men being the same at base (??). Hobbs does particularly well as the woman with a broken spirit who has one last act of rebellion in her; the triumphant sparkle in her eyes as she gets her final moment of revenge is memorable. I was starting to feel that the play was a trifle long but the late reveal revitalised interest and turned what was basically a comedy into something rather darker. And with domestic abuse being a topic of ongoing concern there were plenty of important points to be made.
Cells 2 is, as the title implies, a more direct sequel with writers P. Burton Morgan and Ben Glasstone recreating the feel of the initial song cycle which was universally acclaimed as a little gem. Lem Knights and Clive Rowe appear again as the two men who discovered their mutual association in season one and they are joined this time round by a third character, the woman who links them; she is played by Natalie Hope. This completes the third side of the triangle and also gives extra impetus to the narrative so that it is more than just mere repetition. The songs are as classy as before with some clever lyrics and beautifully delivered by the trio; their voices come together for a rousing finale which still leaves the way open for a third instalment.
Even if there is no more to come, there is now enough material to create a full show especially if the writers go back and flesh out the newly created third role a little more. When I reviewed the initial season, I was of the opinion that it was perfectly formed and needed no more tinkering with; perhaps I was wrong about that. I look forward to seeing where this intelligent and emotionally touching musical goes next – particularly if it retains its current brilliant cast. With 42,000 people reportedly seeing the first tranche of Cells, online theatre immediately seems like a win win for all concerned.
Naming The View will be returning to home screens very soon. Keep checking back for details here.
Cells 2 is available on You Tube – click here. Also available as its seven separate components.
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