by Simon Harvey Williams
I admit the moment I see a grim-faced TV reporter dressed up in full PPI wandering down a hospital corridor with an impossibly long microphone I immediately change channels. It’s not that I don’t care but now the once unfamiliar seems depressingly over-familiar. So as soon as last night’s BBC 1’s lockdown anniversary special began I switched to University Challenge (I got seven questions correct.). Weirdly enough seeing the glass divides between the freakishly clever students hit me more than any hour-long special that we still do live in weird times.
I’m now so acclimatised to the weirdness that it’s difficult to recall just how alien things all felt during that first lockdown. In the first week, my childhood dream of films all day whilst eating my body weight in chocolate was fulfilled. By week two, I couldn’t even look at another Jaffa Cake and I felt a strong need to do something creative.
Looking back the need to immerse myself in a project was a way to get through those surreal first weeks/months. Phil from Darkstuff was in a similar place and we talked about how we might go about producing something online that would still have a strong sense of theatre. Our options were limited by physical space and no budget, so we decided upon straight to camera pieces, which now are a whole sub genre of theatre.
The short video series we created was called ‘Four Stories’ and explored four students dealing with lockdown in isolation. Choosing this scenario came out of conversations with people in higher education about the struggles of young adults in halls. Looking back it is amazing how easily it all came together and that’s mainly down to our ace director Shanaz John and the brilliant cast (a combination of actors and students).
Watching the videos now I can see how the episodes evolve as they go on and how it gets stronger as everyone involved becomes more confident. The writing definitely loosens up as it progresses; it starts off in a fairly naturalistic way but Darkstuff’s.. erm dark sense of humour creeps in more and more – until we reach the point where we’ve got all the characters are singing Coldplay.
Looking back on it, it provides not only a time capsule of what was happening in the world but for me personally re-watching it rekindled fond memories of helping create it.