Apartness

Kevin Short
K4K Films and Shortcut Productions
theSpace @ Surgeons Hall

Sylvester McCoy and Linda Marlowe in Apartness

This is described as "Part Live/Part Film", but it's really a film with an occasional rather baffling interlude from a live performer.

The film stars Sylvester McCoy and Linda Marlowe—I've seen them both give memorable live performances, separately, in past Fringes—as old married couple Christopher and Alice and the person helping them out with shopping during lockdown, Patricia, played by Eleanor May Blackburn.

We see the old couple going through the banalities of getting up and making breakfast while she moves their armchairs apart to comply with how she understands the 'social distancing' rules. Patricia does some shopping for them, donning mask and rubber gloves before entering; Christopher says she is only doing it because they pay her, but Alice says she is kind and needs the money as she can't work in her usual job as a stand-up comedian.

What they don't know is that she is still performing as Hot Touch Patricia of the Comic Militia, which seems to be a group defying lockdown to put on performances. These are the live bits, when Patricia comes out in front of the screen, rants about the old people dying from COVID being sacrificial lambs and acceptable losses while the young people will be fine, then orders the audience to repeat slogans and then join in with a song.

After Patricia forgets her gloves—perhaps because of this, but it isn't clear—then Alice falls ill, but she won't let Christopher call an ambulance as the hospitals are snowed under and "what will be, will be" (they both have a background in amateur musical theatre).

This then becomes a version of Raymond Briggs's When the Wind Blows but with COVID instead of a nuclear bomb, and with none of the wit, political insight and emotion of that remarkable piece of work. It has an inevitable ending that isn't a happy one, then an unexpected coda that doesn't entirely work.

McCoy and Marlowe give great performances on film, making the audience warm to these grumpy old characters, and Blackburn also does what she is required to do well. The film is largely well-made, although some cross-cuts feel a bit slow making conversations unnaturally drawn-out.

But it's hard to know what the audience is meant to take away from this rather slight story on film and the live interludes seem to have a point to make but I couldn't way what that is.

Reviewer: David Chadderton