Isolation Ensemble is a short film of twenty-six different short scenes devised by the company during lockdown, via online video platforms, using a combination of timely verbatim extracts and eloquent new writing. 

The performance explores what happens when the theatres close, festivals are cancelled and the cinemas are empty; the answer being that we look to those we love, have loved and want to love. Isolation Ensemble shares honest words of wisdom and silly yet truthful stories of those navigating their way through the varying phases of romantic relationships.

This project epitomises the paradox of this pandemic, in that it has isolated, constrained and quashed in person interaction and live performance while also igniting community and creativity. As actress Rachel Minghella stated, the project enabled the actors to “reimagine the possibilities of what we can produce in these times. It sounds counterproductive, but restrictions allow greater creative freedom.” 

This project represents a response to the 2.6 Challenge set up in April to help save UK charities, with emerging theatre director Abbie Riddell deciding to rise to the challenge of creating a new piece of online theatre with a cast of twenty-six actors. The project aims to raise urgent funds for four regional arts organisations across the country including Birmingham Hippodrome, Royal Exchange Theatre (Manchester), Belgrade Theatre (Coventry) and Wiltshire Creative (Salisbury Playhouse, Salisbury Arts Centre and Salisbury International Arts Festival).

What I found most poignant about this piece is that it is inexorably linked to its process. The performance is made up of verbatim extracts, playfully and courageously created during the devising process, as the actors shared anecdotes and emotions. In this way the performance came to represent what actress Lucy Aarden described as a “safe space where we could open up to each other about the things that were impacting our lives and relationships”, and culminating in a “unique time capsule filled with real emotion explored through words spoken during this time by people, including ourselves, up and down the country.” 

This certainly comes across through the performance as the entire piece feels organic and coherent, each scene born from conversation, common ground, and playful ponderings about the nature of love and what it looks like for each and every different person. These brief snapshots of life and love expressed through stories, musings and interruptions contain an air of honesty and vulnerability. Therefore it is safe to say that director Abbie Riddell was absolutely successful in her goal to create a “a social commentary of what we are going through at this time on a human level.”

The performance allowed actors from various backgrounds all over the country to collaborate together online, drawing upon a shared experience of the current circumstance. This created a more accessible performance than many mainstream live performances, as it gave a diverse range of new voices, accents and experiences a platform to be heard. It was wonderful to see and hear all these different faces and accents of people all around the UK brought together in one performance. Mainstream theatre can sometimes be elitist and whitewashed, but this performance astoundingly highlighted the breadth and depth of human experience in a compact 12 minutes.

An interesting discussion was raised, regarding intimacy, authenticity and distance with regards to performance for a camera and a digital audience opposed to a live in person audience. I posed these questions to actress Rachel Minghella: 

Can you describe the difference in performance for an audience and to a camera? Do you find it easier or harder? Do you find your performance is more or less genuine?  

RM: “With Isolation Ensemble, there is no Fourth Wall, we’re talking to you the audience…In theatre, unless breaking the fourth wall, you have some awareness of the audience as you need to make sure your body language and voice can read/ be heard to a whole room of people yet your main focus is on the other actors and the space you are performing in. With acting for camera, you are focused on the actors you are playing against though you are performing for the camera. Interactions are as naturalistic as possible; the performance is more internalised compared to theatre as you the camera will read your micro expressions…I feel there is more of a genuine performance by wanting to address your audience directly.” 

This is such an interesting project as actors have been cut off from performing in the same space together physically, yet this performance brings together disparate, isolated performances into a whole. How does it feel for you as an actor to be working solo in this capacity? 

RM: “The way that the project has been devised means that it’s ok that you’re not performing in the same space, as you’re being offered glimpses into these people’s lives. It allows then for the topics to be universal as it is not assumed these people know each other in any way. There was so much devising and rehearsal that I felt supported in my performance, though the act of sitting and filming my segment personally didn’t feel isolating or alienating as it felt as if I was recording a self-tape that I had been preparing for online with friends…Having people to build ideas with and share experiences you channel into a performance is so much more engaging than having to work solo.”

Therefore, as these individual ‘isolated’ segments and scenes were created in a collaborative communal process, the title ‘Isolation Ensemble’ is an apt paradox for the final product.

If you are feeling isolated and want to feel represented, or if you want to catch a glimpse of intimate conversations about love and life, this creatively concise performance is for you. Undoubtedly, witnessing 26 strangers come and share a little insight into their world makes you feel a little less alone. As director Riddell stated, she is most proud of the community and honesty prompted by the project in both the cast and audience members, as many audience members have reached out to “share their experiences with us and had their stories of dating and relationships shared through the short film.”

4 out of 5 stars.

Feel free to respond to the project, join the discussion and community by posting using the hashtags #savethearts #isolationensemble.

A link to watch the short film can be found here: 

If you want to donation to any of the regional theatres in crisis and in need of financial aid, the links can be found below:

Wiltshire Creative:… 

Birmingham Hippodrome:… 

Belgrade Theatre, Coventry:… 

Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester:

Image: Pixabay


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