Bringing theatre to the people
A North East theatre company is pioneering a new way of bringing performances to the people after the Covid-19 pandemic closed venues.
Elysium Theatre Company is presenting ‘The Covid-19 Monologues’ – five plays performed by actors across the country with socially distanced cameramen, directed virtually by Elysium artistic director Jake Murray.
The monologues range from 10 to 40 minutes long and will be free to access on Elysium’s YouTube channel Elysium TC (https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCs7xL1Azzgnu0VkU1odZ5Qw). They are being uploaded every two days from September 30thth – October 9th.
The first play available to watch on September 30 is One Of A Kind, performed by Sunderland actress Sarah Boulter, written by Rachael Halliwell.
The plot centres on a reporter in the North East who gets a job in a care home during the Covid-19 pandemic to be close to her father.
Sarah, 32, filmed the monologue in her car in Herrington Country Park, Sunderland, with a socially distanced cameraman who wore a face mask throughout.
The actress said: “The majority of my work has been on stage and so this really challenged me. It was so interesting to strip everything back to just me, in my car, telling the story. It is intimate, raw and emotional; there is something very different about that.
“This felt so real and I hope that comes across to the audience. It is a beautiful piece and I really enjoyed performing it.”
The mum-of-one, who took on work in a supermarket after theatres closed, added: “It is great that people like Jake Murray are trying to find ways for actors and writers to continue to work.
“As actors we have to be adaptable and this is an extreme shift! Who knows what next year will bring?”
The plays will also see some familiar faces taking part, including Shobna Gulati – famous for her role as Sunita Alahan in Coronation Street and as a panellist on Loose Women.
She said: “Many of us in the performing arts have had to diversify and look for ways to be creative online, the potential is exciting, and might push us all into new areas of creativity.
“When you’re hit by a curve ball you have to make your weakness into a strength. We shouldn’t see working online as a negative, but an opportunity.
“Theatre has survived wars, plagues and collapses of civilisation in the past – it goes back thousands of years. Shakespeare wrote ‘King Lear’ while forced to work outside London due to the Plague. Wonders can be forged even in dire circumstances! It’s exciting!”
Shobna will star in The Art Of Being A Solution, written by Hamza Rafique, playing Preeya – a right-wing political advisor and racial gatekeeper.
Speaking about her role she said: “In Preeya, Hamza has captured the Zeitgeist. He’s created a portrait of a woman of great political power and charm who, at the same time, is riven with contradictions. It’s a fantastic part to play and I am looking to forward to how it is received.”
Elysium was founded in 2017 by Jake Murray, who now lives in Durham, and actor Danny Solomon, based in Manchester, to produce the best of the world’s theatre and make it accessible and affordable for everyone.
This is something Shobna also feels passionate about. She said: “The North of England is full of theatrical talent. Despite this, the regional arts are still seen as second best to what is going in London.
“It’s not true – we are just as good and have exactly the same passion! So, it’s great to be working with Elysium and bringing all this northern talent to the public eye.”
Elysium has brought highly rated productions to stages in Durham, North Shields, Hexham and Manchester. The most recent, Look Back In Anger, was cancelled in March due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
But the company has adapted, and Jake remains positive about its future.
He said: “In the absence of live theatre this is the way to go. We don’t know when we will be back into theatres, so we need to think about new ways to do things – live streaming, open-air theatre.
“This project is a response to what is happening now, with Covid-19, both with the plot themes and the way we are producing virtual, socially distanced, theatre.
“What has been interesting is that this has been such a creative time, we have been busy throughout the whole pandemic trying to adapt what we do.
“We had to think ‘how do we create work?’ and this is the way to do it.”
“We are all trying to be positive. It is a lot easier for small companies like us to be adaptive as we are not building-based.”
The five monologues, in order of release, are:
Sept 30 – One Of A Kind by Rachael Halliwell, performed by Sarah Boulter: a reporter in the North East gets a job at a care home during Covid-19 to be close to her father.
Oct 2 – Push Yourself, Slightly by Chris Dance, performed by Amy Gavin: meet Jane, Professional Demotivator, who will help you realise some of your dreams.
Oct 5 – The Moth by Paul Herzberg, performed by Victor Power: a chance encounter on a train twenty years ago between a black British man and a white South African casts a shadow decades later.
Oct 7 – Sugar by Mike Elliston, performed by Edmund Dehn: Bristol 1721,The Reverend Harcourt struggles with his conscience as he is asked to write the sermon at the funeral for philanthropist and slave trader Sir Edward Colston.
Oct 9 – The Art Of Being A Solution by Hamza Rafique, performed by Shobna Gulati: Preeya, Right Wing political advisor and racial gatekeeper, sits her child carer down to put her right on politics.
For more information on Elysium and their productions, find them on social media at @ElysiumTC or go to www.elysiumtc.co.uk