Earlier this year my life was transformed as was everyone’s on the planet when Covid-19 started its deadly sweep across the world. Everything really changed for me on Monday March 16th when the Prime Minister “advised” people to stay away from restaurants, bars, cinemas and theatres and since that speech, my life hasn’t been the same. My days didn’t change that much as I’m retired but within minutes of the lock-down, my busy diary was decimated and went from being full of visits to the theatre to completely empty. As I deleted those proposed visits to theatres across London to review a production, assess for the Off West End awards (The Offies) or just for pure enjoyment, my schedule went from being out three or four nights a week on average to being in every night – there was literally nothing, nada, nil, zip, zilch – my theatre cupboard was as bare as the NHS’s pre-virus PPE stockpile.
What was I going to do with myself to fill my days – and nights? Then I discovered Zoom meetups and decided that would be my project whilst in lock-down. I start organising them with my close family, friends from around the world, old work colleagues I hadn’t seen for over thirty years and even other London Theatre 1 reviewers! I even attended a Zoom funeral and tonight I’m helping organise a close friends’ 50th anniversary “virtual” celebration which should be a lot of chaotic fun.
So, I was delighted when asked to review Big Telly’s Theatre’s Zoom production of Operation Elsewhere subtitled: “An Irish Adventure To A Mythical Other World” – at last some live theatre – even if it was on a screen!
After logging onto Zoom in the usual way, we were informed of what to do and what screen to be looking at. We were then met by an Irish border guard who checked us in for the journey but not before we had our temperatures taken, a retina scan and the removal of our footwear! We were then transported to Elsewhere – a mythical Irish kingdom where we met a cast of characters including The Groom, The Bride, Mad Sweeney The Birdman, The Changeling, Scatha and The Pooka. If you don’t know what a pooka is, just have a look at “Harvey” the James Stewart movie – Harvey is one!
Using green screen, Zoom backgrounds, shadow puppets, video, music and live-action, the audience (I think there were about fifty of us) were transported to this mythical world of portals, changelings, brides, grooms and strange relatives, guided through our mystical journey by The Pooka.
However, what really made this strange, at times, unfocused tale taken from Irish mythology work, was the excellent use of the Zoom platform and the interaction between the actors and the audience. We were asked to do various things such as disguise ourselves as a forest, roar, do the Haka, freeze, turn out the lights, dance and sing! As we were doing this, audience members were highlighted full screen, so we knew it wasn’t just us making fools of ourselves sitting in front of our computers and tablets! This gave it the feeling of a proper event and you could see by the smiles and laugher of the audience of all ages, what fun they were having.
With the future of conventional live theatre, a complete unknown, it will probably take even longer before theatre companies and audiences brave a live immersive, interactive production and it may be that there will be more innovative, creative initiatives like Operation Elsewhere to solve that problem.
In the meantime, bravo to everyone involved in Operation Elsewhere especially Big Telly’s founder and artistic director Zoe Seaton who appeared right at the end to say a big thank you. My theatre withdrawal symptoms are still there but this was a superb, short-term fix that I would certainly do again.
Review by Alan Fitter
“There is more to this world than meets the eye. What you take for real is an illusion. What you take for an illusion is real. At any one time, in any one place, you are inches from Elsewhere, the land of fable, foe and faerie.”
Directed by Big Telly’s founder and artistic director Zoe Seaton (THE LYRIC THEATRE, BELFAST, HULL TRUCK THEATRE COMPANY, TINDERBOX THEATRE COMPANY), Operation Elsewhere brings alive Irish myths and takes audiences on a virtual trip to the beautiful Emerald island for an adventure into another dimension, where somewhere is Elsewhere. Once admitted to the journey, they weave their path and meet strange and wonderful characters, faeries and changelings, together with mysterious quests, intrigue and game mechanics. It culminates in one extraordinary hour of theatrical entertainment, comedy and joy.
Keith Singleton The Groom
Rosie McClelland The Bride
Michael Johnston Mad Sweeney, The Birdman
Rhodri Lewis The Changeling
Nicky Harley Scatha
Cillian Lenahan Head of Border Security
Chris Grant The Pooka
Writer of original production Jane Talbot
Director and adaptor Zoe Seaton
Stage Manager and Zoom Magician Sinead Owens
Composer Garth McConaghie
Recommended for adults, families and children 7+
Listings: 2 – 4 May, 3pm and 7pm daily
£20 per device