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Going the Distance – A New Digital Comedy | Review

It’s drama about drama, but there is, perhaps inevitably, some added poignancy in the struggle that the Matchborough Community Theatre undertakes to survive following the closure of all theatres in March 2020 in the interests of public health. Maggie (Penny Ryder), the theatre’s treasurer, has identified that, unsurprisingly, the theatre’s current reserves will only go so far. A decision is therefore made by the theatre’s committee, via Zoom (with all of the usual technical hitches and double-checking if people can indeed be seen and heard) to proceed with a production for the purposes of fundraising to keep the theatre going.

Emma McDonald - Going the Distance - Credit Dennis Madden & James Rees.
Emma McDonald – Going the Distance – Credit Dennis Madden & James Rees.

Invariably, some watching this production may wish to question whether the ‘pandemic planning matrix’ put together by Rae (Sarah Hadland), apparently the “marketing, communications, press and digital social monitoring coordinator” has really covered all bases. If it hasn’t, that is only indicative of an inflated self-assuredness in Rae that hates being challenged in any way. “My role is not up for discussion. It’s already been decided, by myself”, she retorts during a meeting. With great roles come great responsibility, and however thoroughly dislikeable Rae is, she doesn’t shy away or attempt to pin the blame on others when the production’s problems start spiralling.

Some witty commentary voiced by Stephen Fry is regularly peppered with buzzwords and corporate-speak, usually in a playful manner. Without in any way being preachy, the storyline provides insight into the amount of work that goes into making a production, including writes (and rewrites) from Vic (Shobna Gulati), the auditions – in this case, both in-person and digitally – and the battle the play’s director, Frank (Matthew Kelly) faces in keeping various stakeholders on board. There is also the issue of corporate sponsorship – a local company has negotiated a return on investment in the form of a dance routine that isn’t appropriate for a family-friendly show.

The production values are high, with excellent camera work portraying both indoor and outdoor scenes just as vividly. A sense of community is strongly embedded into the narrative, not just in Maggie’s recollections of decades of previous productions, but in retailer Kem (Merch Husey) encouraging his friend and employee Gail (Emma McDonald) to at least go to the audition – she would, he says, be better suited treading the boards than working the shop floor. Her response was stoical but also very true – she is in work, which is more than could be said for many in the entertainment industry during a global pandemic.

Some of the humour may be rather corny, but the show eventually grew on me as it went on, serving, amongst other things, as a useful reminder of how resourceful (and, indeed, wasteful) people can be. Elsewhere, a media interview with radio presenter Em (Sara Crowe) highlights how journalistic agendas can diverge from those of theatremakers: but is any publicity good publicity in the end?

It isn’t exactly a fairytale ending, though the show is heartwarming, and without being overly saccharine. A love letter to the theatre, it’s a tribute to the many production companies out there who have done their level best in unprecedented and challenging circumstances.

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

When there’s no light at the end of the tunnel and the chips are down, you can count on Matchborough Community Theatre to fight back…

March 2020. Theatres across the country go dark. Hundreds of cherished arts centres face the prospect of permanent closure. But that isn’t going to stop the Matchborough Community Theatre… as they fight to save their local venue with the genius idea to put on a fundraising production of Wizard* (*inspired by but for rights purposes certainly not based on The Wizard of Oz). Get ready for a brand new comedy about a little theatre with a huge challenge.

Sara Crowe stars as ‘Em, Nicole Evans as ‘Billie’, Shobna Gulati as ‘Vic’, Sarah Hadland as ‘Rae’, Merch Husey as ‘Kem, Matthew Kelly as ‘Frank’, Emma McDonald as ‘Gail’, and Penny Ryder as ‘Maggie’ with Stephen Fry as the ‘Narrator’.

The world premiere of a digital production of a new comedy by Henry Filloux-Bennett and Yasmeen Khan, available on demand from 4 – 17 October 2021.

Co-production by the Lawrence Batley Theatre, Oxford Playhouse, The Dukes & The Watermill
Dates: 4 – 17 October 2021
Writer: Henry Filloux-Bennett & Yasmeen Khan
Director: Felicity Montagu
Web Site: goingthedistanceplay.com/


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