Tom Stoppard’s A Separate Peace Live-Streamed Play Reading

Jenna Coleman - Credit Matt Humphrey.
Jenna Coleman – Credit Matt Humphrey.

Theatres may be closed at the moment but that doesn’t mean that theatrical experiences are just something we remember fondly. Thanks to modern technology, there is a wealth of shows, plays and musicals available to the locked-down public, and last night I was lucky enough to see one in the shape of Tom Stoppard’s play, A Separate Peace, the first in a series of live digital productions called ‘The Remote Read‘, produced by Curtain Call.

One night, in a quiet private hospital, the nurse on duty (Maggie Service) is welcoming a new patient, or is she? John Brown (David Morrissey) may have phoned ahead to let them know he was arriving but there is a problem. As John points out, and the Doctor (Denise Gough) readily confirms, there is nothing wrong with him. In fact, he seems to be in rude health. However, he wants to be booked into the hospital and has the money to pay so, after a good deal of discussion the nurse and doctor let him in, on the proviso that the Matron (Ed Stoppard) will sort things out in the morning. Both expect that the Matron will be kicking John out the next day but, in fact, he is allowed to stay but remains an enigma. He is not sick, has a suitcase full of money and wants nothing more than to observe the hospital’s rules on food times and paint. John is affable and articulate but refuses to talk about his private life with the hospital authorities. He is tight-lipped with everyone except Nurse Maggie Coates (Jenna Coleman) to who he drops little titbits about himself, which she passes on to the Doctor who is desperately trying to find out more about her ‘patient’.

Brought to us through the medium of Zoom and directed by Sam Yates, with Video and Sound by Andrzej Goulding and Sam Glossop respectively, A Separate Peace is no amateur hour production, but is a really engrossing piece of theatre that worked very well on my screen. The five actors are all first-class and, although working script in hand, obviously had a real feel not only for their roles but also for their characters. This is really demonstrated to perfection in the conversations between John Brown and Nurse Maggie.  David Morrissey and Jenna Coleman have a real chemistry that makes the audience forget they are not actually in the same place for the performance. 

The story itself is very intriguing. At the start, we know nothing about John and by the end, we know more, but what we do know, leads to more questions about the character and his motivation. Does he just want a quiet life? Is he running/hiding from something or someone? We will never know and I’m sure everyone will come to their own conclusions about John and his life.

The production was nicely framed with everyone starting off in a black top and having a white background. There were a couple of technical issues with the background once or twice, but these were quite minor and didn’t distract too much from the performance.

Overall, A Separate Peace worked surprisingly well. The story was excellent and the acting highly impressive. The production was put on to raise money for stage technicians and creatives forced out of work by COVID-19, as well as The Felix Project food charity. and, as an understudy for real theatre, it did an extremely good job.

4 Stars

Review by Terry Eastham

David Morrissey (Hangmen, Britannia, The Walking Dead), Jenna Coleman (Victoria, Doctor Who), Denise Gough (two time Olivier Award winner for People, Places and Things and Angels in America), Ed Stoppard (Tom Stoppard’s Leopoldsdtadt in the West End) and Maggie Service (Quiz on ITV, W1A, Call The Midwife) star in the first play in ‘The Remote Read’, an innovative series of live-streamed virtual play readings.

This is no ordinary script in hand reading – this performance has a full creative and production team behind it, and will be directed by award-winning film and theatre 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).

A new frontier for live theatre, creating new digital versions of traditional stage jobs – this innovative project is the first of its’ kind, developing a piece entirely remotely. This production has been put together by a team of creatives, re-imagining their roles for a digital production – including the Director, Design team, Stage Manager and others.

Tom Stoppard’s A Separate Peace, originally written for TV in 1966, will raise money for stage technicians and creatives forced out of work by COVID-19, as well as The Felix Project food charity.
Live-streamed on Saturday 2 May at 7pm.

The producers behind ‘The Remote Read’ – one-off live productions that will be presented and streamed through video conferencing platform, Zoom – are UK-based professional membership platform CurtainCall in partnership with US-based non-profit organisation Apples and Oranges Arts and UK-based non-profit Platform Presents.

Each production will create new jobs for key creatives and stage management freelancers who will work together remotely. 

A Separate Peace 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. 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?