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SHANEY LLOYD is transfixed by Fleabag’s star Andrew Scott’s multi-character monologue

In these troubled times, arts theatre has invented many ways to bring productions back to the stage. The production team behind Sleepless made the decision to test its entire

cast every day for Covid-19. Star, Kimberly Walsh said in a recent interview that she had found it comforting to go home to her family every day reassured knowing that she was healthy. Arlene Phillips’ recent production of Hair was one of The Turbine Theatre’s late August/September outdoor productions designed to entice audiences to return to the theatre. The Old Vic has taken a unique approach with ‘In Camera’. These productions are filmed live from The Old Vic and transmitted to an audience via Zoom.

Tech savviness and other anxieties

As someone who prior to 2020 had thought that Zoom was something I did when running late for a meeting, and ‘Hang Outs’ and ‘Teams’ described myself and my friends at a pub quiz, I suspected my ‘getting to’ this performance may be more dramatic than the play! After paying for my ticket I was concerned I would be left like Dustin Hoffman in The Graduate banging on the theatre door unable to get in. However, my fears were unfounded as after several text reminders from friends (without which I nearly forgot the event) I received an email with a simple link to the Zoom performance. Prior to the show I had received an email containing the information of contacts in the eventuality of technical problems. Having taken their advice of signing in an hour early, I was pleased (and surprised) it had all worked so well. The sound was a little muffled but as I could make out every word, I was loath to alter it in case my lack of technical proficiency meant I lost the performance.

The expertly performed solo dramatization

This was the second of The Old Vic’s ‘In camera’ performances, following on from Duncan Macmillan’s Lungs which starred Claire Foy and Matt Smith in late June/early July. The second play, Stephen Beresford’s Three Kings, written for and starring Andrew Scott, ran for five, live performances at The Old Vic and was tailor made for these socially distanced times. Scott commanded the stage alone for sixty minutes, filling it with a vibrance that made you forget there were no other cast members with his expertly nuanced characterisation.

Three Kings tells the tale of Patrick and his troubled relationship with his absentee father. The play opened with young Patrick gazing up adoringly yet fearfully, at his namesake father who shows him the Three Kings coin trick. Scott’s expressive face revealed all as Patrick listened in horror to the revelation that the father whom he had evidently tried so hard to impress, was leaving him. He tells his son he will only return when he has learnt the Three Kings coin trick.

Scott manages the play’s first-time leap with deft ability as we follow young Patrick into adolescence as he tracked his father down to a new country, home and family. The phone conversation with his drunken father and the sudden realisation of his father’s new family situation was compelling. We followed the action in a non-linear fashion as time flashes forward to the father’s funeral and the hostility faced from his father’s friends as they become judge and jury to Patrick’s relationship with his errant father. Scott’s depiction of the father’s friend Dennis is a recognisable and expertly crafted character, as he tries to connect with young Patrick and share a love of his deceased friend, describing a man Patrick Jnr had never known. Beresford’s script subtly hints, - as Patrick listens - to unanswered phone messages, and that Patrick may have inherited more than his father’s name. We flash forward to Patrick’s meeting with an estranged brother whose congenial manner convinces us that the next generation has shaken off the paternal commitment curse. This makes it all the more affecting is when we gradually realise that contrary to appearances, he too has left a family behind.

The effect is in the performance, not the audience

The experience of seeing a play make its debut without a live audience left me with some strange realisations. It was a unique experience. The shift from watching plays

surrounded by fellow theatre goers (and during lockdown National Theatres archive recordings) to watching in isolation, is a strange experience. For instance, laughing out loud when Dennis’s mood shifts from grief stricken to comical, is disconcerting when there is no one around to reassure you have sensed the rapid mood shift correctly. The

fact that Dennis is drawn as such a distinctive character is testament to the writing and acting. The moment Dennis paused, lowered his voice, and told Patrick “he did love you know” sideswept me with an unexpected emotional jolt and I found myself suffering from dust in my eye! The final scene showed Patrick’s attempt to teach his estranged brother their father’s Three Kings trick, which involves an illusion giving the impression of magic, which is however merely the impact of the central coin causing the illusion of movement. The symbolism of the trick was brought home as we learnt how a central object could cause a ripple effect on that which surrounded it.

The writing and performance of the characters was so authentic that by the time the encore arrived, to a pre-recorded applause, I half expected to see the traditional line of actors taking a bow alongside Scott. As the curtain fell, the panicked cry of Patrick’s long-lost brother, as his brother exits, perhaps echoes the fear of the Arts community, as he shouts: ‘you will come back, won’t you?’ My response to this? Yes, I rather think I will.

Written by Shaney Lloyd

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