Family Room at the Old Vic online
As the world starts to emerge from total lockdown, corona-themed art is popping up more and more. New series like the BBC’s Staged and ITV’s Isolation Stories unravel people’s experience of the pandemic. Live theatre is entering the Covid era with online work such as New Diorama’s sell-out production WORK_FROM_HOME – a play created entirely by the audience on a Zoom call.
The Old Vic’s contribution is a timely revival of 2018’s The Greatest Wealth, a series of monologues about the NHS. Curated by playwright Lolita Chakrabarti and directed by Adrian Lester, the series charts people’s stories from the foundation of the NHS in the 1940s, all the way to 2020 with new work by Booker Prize-winning author Bernardine Evaristo, who recently became the first black woman to top the UK book chart with her book Girl, Woman, Other. There is something in these monologues that is reminiscent of Alan Bennett’s Talking Heads; they are everyday conversations with ordinary people going about their days. But there is a magic about their simplicity, in that it captures something fundamentally human.
Family Room, performed by Jade Anouka, is a conversation with a nurse on her lunch break. It is short, punchy and conversational, which is perfect for those of us who have forgotten how it feels to spend an evening at the theatre, becoming much more accustomed to Tik Tok and Instagram during the pandemic.
Anouka’s acting is fantastic. She creates a character who is instantly familiar and the monologue makes it feel like the audience have just run into a neighbour or colleague and are striking up a chat. But the depth of her understanding of the role is remarkable. The actress truly embodies the experience of a nurse. In her light laugh, there is a lot of pain, but in her strength, there are years of experience and a love for her colleagues and patients. Admittedly, the writing is a little too poetic at times, which means the character sometimes dulls. But overall, there is a real harmony between writing, acting and direction.
The whole piece is comprised of nothing more than a chair, a lunchbox and our nurse. She barely gets up – she only chats with us. But the result is a moving, down-to-earth snapshot of somebody’s life that is peppered throughout with humour and love.