Strangely, I can sort of relate to John Brown (David Morrissey), or at least I know of people who possibly could. Your reviewer happens to be diabetic, and as patients, we are, from time to time, encouraged to touch base with other patients to give and receive support and solidarity. In extreme circumstances, patients may require hospital treatment if their diabetes gets out of control. The task of keeping one’s blood sugar levels intact is then taken over by the hospital staff on the ward. While I’ve never been hospitalised myself in this way (yet), from what other diabetics have told me, if anything, it’s an opportunity to get respite for a few days from having to do that for ourselves. There’s no need to cook, either, as meals are provided, however bland they may be.
Brown presents himself to the duty nurse (Maggie Service) at a private hospital, who has made the necessary arrangements on the grounds that his is an emergency case. But the word ‘emergency’ isn’t preceded by the word ‘medical’, and so the duty doctor (Denise Gough) is as mystified as the nurse as to why Brown would rather stay in a hospital rather than a hotel. Various investigations are carried out – far be it from me to set out here what the outcomes were, but it is nonetheless an interesting narrative. But they don’t throw him out – for one thing, that would lead to this being an even shorter play than it already is. He is also reasonably well-off, so he can’t be evicted for non-payment.
It’s a steady delivery in this online production, which uses the Zoom video service quite brilliantly. A little variation in pace might have been the icing on the cake – that said, marks for consistency, and for the delivery of lines with the right sort of ambience for audiences watching in living rooms (as opposed to projecting so as to be heard in the back row of the upper circle). The costumes are not much to write home about, with everyone in plain black tops, against a white background – except, for narrative purposes, Brown himself.
Completing the cast are Matron (Ed Stoppard), who doesn’t exactly rule with an iron fist, and Nurse Maggie (Jenna Coleman), who befriends Brown, ostensibly to provide the bedside manner Brown craves but such niceties are also a way of – hopefully – getting more information out of him that will help the hospital staff understand the underlying motives for a healthy person being there. This brief but thoughtful play has been produced here in such a way that leaves one’s understanding of proceedings largely reliant on the text – how refreshing to see a production that has faith in the script being brought to life without too many bells and whistles attached.
This is an intriguing and rather charming story that has Curtain Call off to a strong start in its series of live digital productions.
Review by Chris Omaweng
‘A Separate Peace’
by Tom Stoppard
‘A Separate Peace’ is the first in a series of live digital productions called ‘The Remote Read’, produced by Curtain Call. All productions feature a full creative and technical team collaborating remotely.
Tom Stoppard’s A Separate Peace, originally written for TV in 1964, will raise money for stage technicians and creatives forced out of work by COVID-19, as well as The Felix Project food charity.
John Brown – David Morrissey (Hangmen, Britannia, The Walking Dead)
Nurse Maggie Coates – Jenna Coleman (Victoria, Doctor Who)
Doctor- Denise Gough (two time Olivier Award winner for People, Places and Things and Angels in America)
Matron – Ed Stoppard (Tom Stoppard’s Leopoldsdtadt in the West End)
Nurse – Maggie Service (Quiz on ITV, W1A, Call The Midwife)
Director Sam Yates
(The Starry Messenger with Matthew Broderick, Wyndham’s Theatre and The Phlebotomist, Hampstead Theatre Downstairs; Film: The Hope Rooms with Andrew Scott and Ciarán Hinds, Cymbeline with Hayley Atwell, All’s Well That Ends Well with Ruth Wilson and Lindsay Duncan).
Video Designer Andrzej Goulding
Sound Designer Sam Glossop
Costume Designer Amelia Sierevogel
Lighting Designer Nat Green
Tech Designer Tim Kashani
Stage Manager Georgia Bird
Production Manager Kate West
Deputy Stage Manager Kim Battistini
PR Kevin Wilson PR
Producer Curtain Call
Co-producer Platform Presents
Co-producer Apples & Oranges Arts
Partner Shubert Organization
Charity The Felix Project
‘A Separate Peace’ (1964), by Tom Stoppard is an enigmatic comedy set in a private nursing home. The smooth running of the home and the peace of mind of its staff is disrupted by the arrival of a patient, John Brown. He is warm, charming and can easily pay for his room … the only problem is that he is perfectly healthy. All he wants is to get away from the outside world. The play follows the desperate, often comic, attempts of the nursing staff to crack the riddle of Brown’s disarming honesty. However, behind the humour, Stoppard poses a key question about the way our society works: why do we feel so uncomfortable about people who want to do nothing – even when they can afford it?