Lockdown review: Out of Control

Chalk Roots Theatre (a London-based ensemble of recent graduates from the Drama Centre at Central St Martins, with an international director) have put a series together which “blurs the boundaries of theatre/film” and looks at “the human condition in lockdown”.

The six plays as a collection are titled Out of Control and you can find them on the company’s YouTuhe channel. The writers were chosen via a BBC Writersroom callout, and feature both established talent and upcoming voices.

There are certainly parallels and echoes throughout the series and all sorts of questions are raised about how enforced lockdown has affected what we consider to be our own sense of “control”, but the audience can watch and piece that together for themselves.

Each has the same silent viewer (Johny Gill), engaging (or not) in various ways, as voyeur rather than participant. For me, other than in one of the pieces, this was a distraction that didn’t entirely work and I ended up focusing more on the content of each play.

Jess Kinsey in Urban Foxes
Jess Kinsey in Urban Foxes

There are six plays in the series, all directed by Saulius Kovalskas, and all riff on a theme which could be loosely described as isolation, whether directly related to lockdown or not.

Tara is a videolog which considers sex, engagement, and art. It made me think of the complexities of coping alone, of where the boundaries are in life, of re-evaluation of priorities. Written and performed by James Viller, with music by Ivan Grebenschikov, it is the shortest in the sequence at five minutes, so felt more a taster than some of the other pieces.

Deux Femmes is more of a traditional talking-head piece, performed by Laura Pujos and written by Rosie Nicholls. This time our character talks of the meaning of necessity, and how this varies depending on priorities. It has a bubbling undercurrent of anger but never quite gets there, although it touches on how people are not all in it together, or treated the same. Running nine and a half minutes, this has music by Topher Mohr and Alex Elena.

James Viller in Mangle
James Viller in Mangle

Urban Foxes is a disturbing piece about creatures of the wild, vulnerability, voyeurism, the woman as object, the mother as provider, and the nature of freedom. Written by Judy Upton and performed by Jess Kinsey, with music by Jerina Lokmer, our character feels at one with the family of foxes who come to live near her, and talks of “living on our wits and what we can scrounge”. This is probably the most cinematic of the plays, with scenes both indoor and outdoor, in daylight and by torchlight, and it runs thirteen minutes.

Mangle is a poetic piece, full of heightened language, which runs just under six minutes. James Viller performs for a second time, here in a play which considers body dysmorphia and which turns rather obsessively dark as it progresses, ultimately leading to the character taking back control of his own sense of self. A striking pairing of the character’s head surrounded by a bath full of bubbles and a mirrored confessional makes this an interesting film.

The Bus Ride is written and performed by Sophie Helbig, and is perhaps the most directly relevant to how many are facing up to the “new normal”. Here the character is a simple talking head but watched throughout by the silent man we have seen in the other films. Here I found his presence extremely effective, especially by the end. The play touches on the human need for closeness and warmth in everyday life, and how the most mundane of encounters on a bus causes a curious reaction. LMMR provide the music for this eight minute piece.

Johny Gill and Jess Kinsey in Epilogue
Johny Gill and Jess Kinsey in Epilogue

Continuers is performed by Johny Gill, a vlogger who is the man who has been quietly watching throughout, and it is the “one year lockdown anniversary”. Was the world happier when it didn’t have to travel, meet other people, deal with life? This piece by Benjamin Holter is quietly satirical about the idea of continuous lockdown and communication. The idea of “outers” and “continuers” plays with the idea of lockdown values and those within the younger age brackets who haven’t taken it that seriously, or who have found it the most difficult to lose their “freedom”. This one runs nearly seven minutes and has music by Soumaya Snoussi.

There’s an Epilogue to the series, which runs snippets of each play together to look at the nature of lockdown, of being out in the world, and to present the credits of all the sequence of Out of Control in one place.

Chalk Roots Theatre are to be congratulated for coming up with something original to say about the human, physical, and psychological cost and impact of lockdown and loss of routine, and how resilence leads us to cope and react in our own ways. It plays with the fear of normality, the stopping of regular routine, or new approaches to the rhythm of the world. It isn’t entirely successful, but it is a brave attempt from a cohort of creatives who have approached the project in a thoughtful way.

All images courtesy of Chalk Roots Theatre.

Out of Control is free to view.