“Hello, can anyone hear me?” asked producer of Lights Down Productions Caley Powell in the opening moments of the Light On Showcase, an online showcase of female-led new writing. With a storm raging outside, the calming familiarity of the Zoom background felt comforting in what has become typical for lockdown theatre performances.
Unaware if host Caley’s opening was a meta part of the performance, a few audience members began typing that they could, in fact, hear what she was saying. It quickly became apparent that the confusion was actually due to a slight technical difficulty but once the hiccup was resolved, the show began without another hitch.
The performance, which consisted of five monologues and five duologues, all written and performed by female-identifying creatives, was recorded and played in two halves. After a short welcome to the audience, who had tuned in from across the globe, part one began.
The standout performance was Hattie, which nearly moved me to tears. The monologue—written by Beverley Andrews—was a creative interpretation of the life of Hattie McDaniel, the first African American to win an Oscar for her role as Mammy in Gone with the Wind.
Set in a graveyard, an imagined Hattie spent the monologue speaking to her dead mother, telling her about what she’d missed before Hattie revealed her own devastating news. The blurred Zoom background brought a beautiful simplicity to the piece and the stripped-back approach made the already heartbreaking story phenomenal.
Closing the first half was I Wish I Was Clean. Written by the producer of the show, Caley Powell, it was a thought-provoking piece. Focusing on her experience with OCD, the play worked to break down stereotypes and myths around the condition. The piece was wonderfully paced and the explanation of her deeply personal journey was educational without being heavy-handed.
After the first half, there was an interval, just like the real theatre, before audience members were invited to take part in a home-disco session. As Earth, Wind and Fire, Abba, and Beyoncé played through my speakers, I couldn’t help but join in the dancing. This section of the performance was really enjoyable and provided a bit of light relief in-between the heavy themes in some of the plays.
In the second half, Funny Old World by Vicky Richards stood out due to the unique concept: a clown auditioning for a child’s birthday party. This short piece perfectly encapsulated the frustration of so many freelancers during the pandemic, who despite the challenges, still needed to work. The twist at the end was hilarious and as both actors played the comedy straight, the absurdity became even more prominent.
Her (R)age, a spoken word poem by Kate Webster, used language masterfully. Telling the story of a middle-aged mother, it followed how she harnessed her invisibility in society as her very own superpower. The moral of the play left a lasting impression: I couldn’t shake the feeling of injustice about how society defines women throughout their lives.
It contrasted wonderfully with Sisters, a play by Tracey Hayward that looked at how many sibling relationships transformed during the pandemic. It showed how sometimes, returning to “usual” isn’t always best, and addressed important conversations currently playing out across society.
Throughout Light On Showcase, it was clear everyone’s needs were considered: for accessibility, the subtitles were automatically switched on, which I found useful to keep track of the sometimes fast-paced dialogue.
Closing with a Q&A, I felt a twinge of sadness as I sat in my bedroom, watching what may be one of the last lockdown theatre performances. Although everyone is excited to return to real-life performances, I couldn’t help but consider that it was only because of lockdown that female-only showcases, like this one, could gain such large audiences.
Overall, this performance showcased some amazing talent. As we (hopefully) wave goodbye to lockdown, I hope that online performances continue because, as the Light On Showcase showed, it can be a great equaliser, and allow everyone to perform regardless of gender, background or disability.
Words by Elouise Hobbs
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