Review: Love in the Time of Lockdown (TheSpace @ Surgeons' Hall)
Updated: Jun 1
I confess, this year I expected the stages of Edinburgh to be awash with lockdown-related plays this August, but I was wrong. Maybe in a larger Fringe, there might’ve been. Whatever the reason, the door has been left wide open for SwanWing Production's Love in the Time of Lockdown; a series of 18 stories all on the topic of love, and how bad at it we have all become after being stuck inside for so long. Written and directed by Saskia Wesnigk, it promises heartache and hilarity in equal measure.
And where better to start than with a scene with some clumsy flirting. Simple but reliable. A gentleman (Jon Terry) arrives to get his first vaccine from a nurse (Gillian Fischer) and decides this is the best place to pull out his best carry-on style innuendos. This is where the trouble begins. His advances are, as anyone who paid attention during the MeToo movement would know, wholly inappropriate in such a workplace. Fischer’s acting, or perhaps Wesnigk's direction, makes her character’s feelings and motivations hard to read. It is only at the end of the scene that we learn that she was, in fact, enjoying the uninvited flirtations, and not planning a sexual harassment lawsuit.
(Photo credit: Strat Mastoris)
Fine, comedy may not be the strength of Love in the Time of Lockdown. That doesn’t mean the more dramatic and emotional scenes can’t carry the rest of the performance. So let’s take a scene from later in the play; a mother is walking home with groceries and gives a monologue about the challenges she has faced in isolation. Themes that focus on commonly shared experiences like this work best when the writing has a distinctive style or an unusual angle, such as Gary Owen’s description of a hangover in Iphigenia in Splott. Disappointingly, this monologue proves achingly bland. The writing has no distinctive witty style, and puts a greater emphasis on the mundane details of her life story rather than revealing the nature of her character. More egregious, however, is her complaints of the difficulties presented by her disabled son Chris. This adds to the long history of stories that turn disabled people into burdens, using them as narrative tools to aid the characterisation of able-bodied people. It’s a tasteless trope that should have fallen out of use a long time ago.
OK, neither comedy nor drama seem to be working, at least not on a relatable level. How about changing course completely and becoming a surreal comedy? One scene, which garnered not so much as a snigger from the audience, begins with a woman (Martina Greenwood) driving home singing along to Queen’s “I’m in Love with my Car”. Suddenly, a voice off-stage croons back. It becomes apparent we are watching a love scene, nay, a sex scene, between a woman and her car. For several uncomfortable minutes, we witness Greenwood sit back as she learns that her vehicle can not only drive itself but pleasure her to the point of climax at the same time. Where this is meant to sit in a play featuring recognisable situations from the past year, and what reaction Wesnigk was looking for, is impossible to tell. It leaves the audience aghast at its sheer randomness and asking what barrel had to be scraped in order to conceive it.
(Photo credit: Strat Mastoris)
Finally, in the show’s longest scene, which takes place in an office for a mental health helpline, Wesnigk tries to strike a balance between tragedy and comedy. An operator (Fischer again) answers the phone to a regular caller, who tells her she is feeling suicidal and thinking of “jumping”, but is, in reality, sitting on an armchair with a cup of tea. The operator enquires what her route to the nearest bridge would be. Writing like this is not only unfunny but cruel. After what has been an incredibly difficult year for many people, but one that has at least widened the conversation surrounding mental health, comedy at the expense of people on the brink of suicide is unspeakably out of touch. Moreover, the next call is intended to be a sincere attempt at drama, one that should draw tears from the eyes of the audience, as though the sight of a woman being advised on how to end her own life hadn’t destroyed any credibility Love in the Time of Lockdown had left.
The cast across all of these scenes are largely fine within their roles, but Wesnigk’s writing veers from bizarre to bland to offensive leaving little material to flex their talents. Not all the scenes garner such strong reactions as those I have mentioned, but those that don’t leave very little impression. With a format such as this, where there is a collection of stories, there are constant opportunities for redemption – for the strength of one scene to compensate for the mistakes of another. In the case of Love in the Time of Lockdown, no such redemption exists. One star.
Whispers from the Crowd:
The phone bit was good, but I wasn’t sure about the car situation. It was too bizarre. I know people have been losing their minds but not to that extreme. I just didn’t find it believable.