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Lockdown Culture Round-Up 1

Now we’re in lockdown, home entertainment is vital for the soul. But where to go and what to do? In the lead-up to the current state of curfew in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic following the closure of theatres, concert halls, galleries and music venues, the energy moved online. One of the first out the traps was Cryptic, the Glasgow-based music-theatre company, who took their Cryptic Nights initiative online in a concert reported in these pages last week, and which saw electronic auteurs Aeger Smoothie, LinhHafornow and Alex Smoke perform in an empty Glad Café.

With Pitlochry Festival Theatre forced to close its production of Barefoot in the Park after one night, artistic director Elizabeth Newman has kick-started both a fund-raising campaign and a series of online video shorts that comes in three strands. The first is a series of daily poems read by actors including Rufus Sewell. The second is a series of children’s’ activities to help entertain youngsters at home. The third is an initiative called Telephone Club, in which members of the public who might feel isolated can call the theatre and speak to one of the company to help bring some form of human contact.

Meanwhile, in Glasgow, every night at 7pm, Honeyblood front-woman Stina Tweedale performs short solo sets broadcast live on Honeyblood’s Facebook page. Before the lockdown, this featured guests such as Martha Ffion, Carla J. Easton and Emme Woods, while Tweedale herself has played an array of her own songs and unexpected covers.

There was a live broadcast too from Edinburgh comedy club, The Stand, where Phill Jupitus, Jo Caulfield, Vladimir McTavish, Gareth Waugh and Mark Nelson performed to more than 7,000 viewers. Those behind Edinburgh jazz night, Playtime, were hoping to do something similar, but were prevented by the lockdown.  

This didn’t stop the performance of Bubble, a new play by Kieran Hurley, whose break-out work, Beats, was last year adapted into a successful film. Presented by Theatre Uncut, whose compendiums of quick-fire responses to current events saw the company win a Herald Angel award at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, Bubble brought together six performers from across Europe to collaborate in an online play that looked at the complexities of freedom of speech and online debate.

The big test in terms of how theatre copes will come with Scenes for Survival, a major initiative launched last week by the National Theatre of Scotland in association with BBC Scotland and BBC Arts’ Culture in Quarantine project.

Scenes for Survival will see the NTS present a series of short digital works over the next few months alongside pretty much every producing theatre institution and company in the country affected by the pandemic. With major artists such as Alan Cumming, Cora Bissett, Brian Cox and Kate Dickie supporting the season alongside writers Val McDermid, Denise Mina and Ian Rankin, the series will also act as a fundraiser for those theatres, while other work by the NTS will also move online.

While audiences await the results of such an urgent response to the current situation, in the meantime, there is plenty of archival material. With university courses curtailed, Edinburgh-based film-maker Mark Cousins has put together 40 Days to Learn Film, an epic 200-minute visual talk on movies that can be found on Vimeo.

In terms of archive material, the National Review of Live Art have just put online an archive of 75 videos of performances from the festival’s thirtieth anniversary that took place in Glasgow in 2010. Boundary-busting artists on show include Ron Athey, Geraldine Pilgrim and Alastair MacLennan. Over on Soundcloud, JD Twitch of Glasgow club night Optimo has produced two Tranquillity mixes designed to provide calm in such troubled times. 

Best of all, perhaps, is Old School, a brand new podcast by veteran actress Ida Schuster. Set up prior to the current state of affairs, Old School sees 101-year-old Schuster, a sometime doyen of the Citizens Theatre, launch herself as the oldest pod-caster in the world as she shares her unique perspective on life, love and theatre in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, delivered with charm, humour and wisdom enough to see us through to the other side.


The Herald, March 26th 2020

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