The Remote Read: A Separate Peace
There is a unique coordination between the premise and the production of A Separate Peace on Zoom; the fact that the play, written in 1965 by Sir Tom Stoppard, follows a man who takes up residence in a private hospital makes this virtual performance – courtesy of COVID-19 and Zoom – especially compelling. Peace follows Mr John Brown, a middle-aged war veteran who arrives at a private hospital with a clean bill of health and a suitcase full of money. Even disregarding the socially-distanced, virtual, live nature of the performance, Peace is captivating and richly constructed.
The notion that a perfectly healthy man is allowed to live in a hospital seems almost sacrilegious in the time of a global pandemic, yet Brown’s remarks that he wants to do nothing while being sheltered from the chaos of the world are especially fitting in light of global lockdowns. Intriguingly, we laugh at his desire for calmness and nothingness from inside our homes as we search for an escape from all the boredom that accompanies the internationally-enforced bedrest.
The absurdism of the play’s premise is not only hilarious but also deeply revealing. While the audience is initially compelled to laugh at Brown’s intentions, they soon grow empathetic for the man who simply wants an escape from the troubles and expectations of the world. At first, viewers may identify with the doctor and matron, who only want to send Brown away. Yet, as the story progresses, the audience begins to develop empathy for the protagonist.
With a five-person cast, captivating acting is essential; the actors fare well. Jenna Coleman and David Morrissey bring experience and authenticity to their leading roles as Nurse Coates and John Brown. The background characters hold their own in their limited screen time, too; Denise Gough, Ed Stoppard (Sir Stoppard’s son) and Maggie Service bring life to the Doctor, Matron and Nurse Jones, respectively. Sam Yates’ thoughtful directing ties the play together.
The characters’ comedic complexities are rich in juxtaposition with the simple set design; characters wear all black and perform from the torso-up in front of white backgrounds. The intentionally minimalistic approach allows the viewer to focus on all the witty remarks and odd exchanges. The gradual transformation of Brown’s background from blank white to a beautiful landscape painting is elevated by the plainness of the surroundings.
Additionally, the well-crafted soundtrack and sound effects enrich the story without taking the focus away from the script. Overall, rather than trying to fit a for-the-stage play online, the production team have managed to adapt the text to the virtual platform brilliantly, almost as though the piece was made for Zoom. Interestingly, the actors face the viewer, rather than each other, which helps spectators connect with characters as though they are an invisible onlooker rather than an audience.
A Separate Peace, the proceeds of which support The Felix Project and Apples & Oranges, is brilliantly executed and deeply relevant. The reading is truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
A Separate Peace was live-streamed on Zoom on 2nd May 2020. For further information about The Felix Project, visit their website here.