Lockdown reviews: A Separate Peace

“I’ve always been so well. If I’d been sick, I would have been all right.”

Tom Stoppard: A Separate Peace (1969)

I’ve been watching quite a few theatre pieces created and broadcast via Zoom lately: the Creation Theatre’s The Tempest, which invited audience members to interact with the actors by clapping, shaking screens, etc was particularly fun.

Now Curtain Call, Platform Presents and Apples and Oranges have staged a one-act play by Tom Stoppard, A Separate Peace, as the opening instalment of their A Remote Read series. I wanted to see how the actors and their director Sam Yates utilised the medium.

A Seperate Peace has a definite feel of a radio play, which works well as you listen to the words. There’s only one concession to the white-out backgrounds the actors are presented against, and that’s the world of colour and countryside John Brown (a reticent and affable David Morrissey) paints on his wall as the play progresses.

David Morrissey, Denise Gough, Maggie Service in A Separate Peace
David Morrissey, Denise Gough, Maggie Service in A Separate Peace

Brown has turned up to a private hospital with a lot of money wanting to come and stay. He appears physically and mentally well, but craves the routine of institutionalism and being “expected to do nothing”.

He’s an enigma who peturbs the hospital staff (admissions – an eager Maggie Service; doctor – a harrassed Denise Gough; matron – a freewheeling Ed Stoppard; nurse – a sweet and sensitive Jenna Coleman).

In this most starry of casts I noted that Morrissey and Stoppard were less likely to engage with the camera than the other actors, which perhaps echoed the more laid-back characters they played. After all, this was promoted as “a reading” albeit one with a full creative team.

In A Separate Peace, plain white screens have characters only visible when they are in the scene – it worked for the sterile and clean environment of this particular text. We can experience Brown’s need for quiet and lack of daily responsibility, and by the end reveal we can empathise fully with his situation.

David Morrissey and Jenna Coleman in A Separate Peace
David Morrissey and Jenna Coleman in A Separate Peace

I believe that Zoom can be a tool for innovation in streamed theatre – the backdrop for Morrissey slowly evolving was beautifully done – and the potential has been there in every production I have joined so far (check out the weekly Shakespeares presented as The Show Must Go Online).

For me, A Separate Peace was a good starting piece for the series, and its words came across beautifully through the focus on characters as they entered and exited their screens. I felt the constant background music was a slight distraction, but soon filtered it out to concentrate on what the actors were saying.

Overall, an enjoyable thirty minutes, with no technical flubs I could see. Money raised from tickets for this stream (£10-20) go towards supporting stage technicians and creatives forced out of work during this pandemic, and to the Felix Project food charity.

LouReviews received a complimentary ticket to review A Separate Peace.