Pre-recorded Zoom shows can be difficult, especially when they revolve around dialogue: it is far too easy to fall into stilted timing and a slightly unnatural feeling when you don’t have the benefit of being in each other’s physical space.
The cast of BEIGE manage to avoid these issues (for the most part), but the pitfalls seem almost inevitable. It’s a show that, in its current form, is not intrinsically designed for virtual performance, but the production is a commendable attempt at adapting to the circumstances.
BEIGE takes us through Alex’s journey of gender as they and their loved ones adjust to their newly found non-binary identity.
For the first ten minutes, I find myself a bit confused about how the scenes interact with each other. With pre-recorded scenes that are seemingly recorded by the actors independently, it takes me some acclimatising to realise that while the actors are in different locations, the characters are not.
There are moments that feel an odd combination of under-rehearsed and over-rehearsed, and the confusion resurfaces as we switch between Alex in ‘scene mode’ and Alex in ‘direct address, stand-up comedy mode’. But overall, Jessica Daniels’ direction makes BEIGE an interesting navigation of remote rehearsing and performing; the characters’ shared actions are well choreographed and go some way into bridging the gap between shared scenes.
Anna Wheatley’s script is a heavy undertaking, and the actors do a good job of keeping the emotional stakes high – which is no easy feat considering, most of the time, they are acting to their own cameras.
In a conversation Alex’s mother, Lila, has with a wilfully ignorant teacher, the scene is full of very tangible frustration and anger, and is a standout instance for the flow of the virtual back and forth: a scene that is built almost entirely on fraught mini-monologues, the obstacle of keeping the timing seamless is completely overcome. In fact, as Lila, Jordan Whyte does a fantastic job of keeping up the pace of a scene throughout the whole show; Lila is so big and bold that Whyte easily commands a scene and fills any dead space naturally.
There is a lovely recurring scene in which Alex is commanded to bow and curtsey by some unknown power. Ica Niemz’ video design works beautifully with Brain Rays’ sound design in these scenes: unnaturally coloured images superimposed over each other, accompanied by disconcerting clashes and echoes. It’s a rather poignant allegory for the gender journey we are on with Alex.
Even though the show is punctuated by Alex’s stand-up, overall, it is sad. There isn’t much that doesn’t tug on the heartstrings, but that does make the moments of levity stand out even more; they are needed. It’s a difficult journey and the distance between us, as an audience, and the performance serves to make it even more so. The heart-wrenching conclusion of the show leaves Em Thane’s Alex and Sukey Willis’ Erin embracing each other but, within the confines of the production, has Thane and Willis embracing the cameras, and the loneliness of that moment reaches out to me through my own screen.
I have to say that the whole cast and crew including clips of themselves throwing up peace signs and hand hearts during the credits was a very welcome moment of connection. Whether it is her intention or not, Daniels has created a commentary on the importance of human connection that, right now, is all too pertinent.