Playtime

It’s the night before Dress Rehearsal and all through the house, not a creature is stirring…

I’m in Zoom as an audience member, watching only. The first actor to arrive probably doesn’t know I can see her. She takes a couple of deep breaths. It’s the first time I’ve seen her showing nerves. The others join in quick succession on the dot of 7.30 pm. There are smiles, greeting, kisses blown and omg such a sense of affection between them. They are totally amazing. My heart swells with love for these guys – Malachi and Tim will have a field day slagging me about this post, and I love them for that too!

These actors are so dedicated.

‘I have five layers on me,’ says one. The costume changes are challenging but for most of them the least of their worries. They share their horror stories of getting stuck and unable to turn their screens on, off, picture freezes, mics underperforming. Someone asks if his lighting is okay. ‘How about now?’ The glare causes a chorus of, ‘No, not that one.’ He fixes it.

The producer comes on and admits she’d hit the wrong button and was sitting in a zoom meeting by herself wondering where everyone was.

This time last year we’d have had absolutely no concept of that. What amazes me is how everyone has wholeheartedly risen to this challenge. This time last year most of us had no idea of what an R-number was, and the idea of wearing a mask into a shop, let alone a bank, was completely unheard of… but that was then, and this is now… These actors have taken their isolation by the throat and given it one hell of a shake.

Rehearsals begin. It’s like someone has flicked a switch. They seem to cast their nerves to one side. The previous cheery personalities pull on the masks of fractious competitors snarling at one another. Their true selves are hidden behind their screen characters. I’m bewitched by their magic, thrilled to have had a small part in creating this as I watch the producer guide them gently but firmly through tweaks and tricky bits. She has such a lovely way with people, always mindful of feelings, patient and calm in the face of possible internet disasters, and always encouraging and upbeat. I’ve no doubt this dynamic atmosphere starts with her…

They are working so hard, repeating and redoing bits until they have it perfect – with such great humour! Giggles abound as they practice their wardrobe changes for the first time. The fluffed lines and gaffs are adorably hilarious, but I have complete faith; it will be all right on the night. I want to hug them all! And maybe I just will – once we get vaccinated! Hopefully, they won’t be too horrified at the prospect.

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