Review: Splendid Isolation: Lockdown Drama offers insight into what really matters

Stella McCusker features in A Random Act Of Kindness. Picture by BBC
Jane Hardy


Splendid Isolation: Lockdown Drama

BBC/Lyric Theatre

Splendid Isolation, the inspired collaboration between BBC Northern Ireland and The Lyric Theatre in Belfast, provides us in the sitting room stalls with six brief but real plays for today. If you had any qualms about basing dramas on the possibly limiting notion of lockdown, you didn't need to worry with this line-up.

We kick off with the magnificent Love Lockdown by playwright David Ireland, of Cyprus Avenue fame. It features a woman (superb Abigail McGibbon) whose mother torments her and who retains an affection for one Johnny Lavery and their "crazy, phenomenal sex".

By dint of handy plotting, her ex-squeeze becomes available as his wife has attacked him with a knife. They meet up, there are references to DH Lawrence, and it all ends upbeat. With the mum squashed.

Lisa McGee is now, via Derry Girls, one of our top writing talents. Her drama, The Girl at the Window, takes a different, darker tone. A good looking young man, sad after a loss, feels he's being observed by a girl in a yellow dress across the street. Paranoia sets in – "She knows I can see her" – then the denouement, after musings on endings, something we connect to lockdown, comes like an O Henry short story.

Anthony Boyle is outstanding as the fellow peering nervously through the blinds.

Sarah Gordon and Damian McCann, Just the Two of Us

I genuinely relate to the sparring couple in Just the Two of Us. Sarah Gordon and Damian McCann's piece, in which they also act, was hilarious. The protagonists just can't function in their small, shared space, with the marvellously hyper Karen insisting on success, her dippy husband Simon bringing it unintentionally crashing down. It reminds me of the needlessly self-isolating couple in The Lyric's original online entertainment.

There's more. A Random Act of Kindness by Owen McCafferty, directed by Jimmy Fay, who dreamed all this up, is lovely. Stella McCusker, who was indeed a great Blanche DuBois in real life, is seen acting out an in-joke in her front room before receiving her prescription from a young delivery guy.

They connect, distantly, through her window and, as he's a drama student, he responds with a bit of Romeo and Juliet. It is a bite-sized Harold and Maude, really.

Abigail McGibbon features in Love Lockdown. Picture by BBC

Are these plays or film or TV? It doesn't matter but they're actually filmed dramas. You could argue it's all been written before. Huis Clos, Sartre's vision of a distanced three-person hell – which is other people – is just one example.

But this half hour, summing up three difficult months, gives us a new insight. What matters is people, love and connection. And of course, the arts, which help us join up the dots.

:: Splendid Isolation: Lockdown Drama is a collection of five-minute theatrical pieces exploring life in lockdown broadcast on BBC Northern Ireland. It airs on BBC Four on Tuesday June 30 at 10.30pm and BBC One on Wednesday July 1 at 11:20pm and is available on the iPlayer

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