Julie Hesmondhalgh narrates new mocumentary following a local theatre group as they tackle lockdown

Since April the Royal Exchange Theatre’s Elders Company have been meeting regularly, attending virtual workshops, reading plays and making new work for the digital space. Their latest creation A FUNNY THING HAPPENED IN ISOLATION is a new mocumentary centred around a small theatre troupe as they navigate the new lockdown rules and strive to keep theatre alive - as only they know how. Released via the theatre’s YouTube on Thursday 1 October, to coincide with the internationally recognised Older People’s Day, this funny, gentle, slightly ridiculous love-letter to the theatre has been written by Andy Barry and created with the Elders Company.

As the country went into lockdown cameras began following a small theatre troupe to see how they would adjust to the ‘new normal’. Brother and sister, Maurice and Joan, have fully embraced a new life on Zoom. Meanwhile, emerging director Natalie, ambitiously sets out to rehearse her age-inclusive Romeo and Juliet and partners Deidre and Mike are determined to bring the magic of a ‘night out at the theatre’ into their own home.

So, I’m just putting out our interval drinks, with the little tickets. That way, they’re ready, and they’ll also be a bit warm and flat in about ninety minutes, so it’s really authentic.”

Elders Company member Fred Yeomans said…
When the world fell apart with Covid-19, it was a tough time for everyone. Like most people we were left in limbo, not knowing what the future held. Then, technology came to the rescue in the form of ‘ZOOM’. Most sessions were hilarious, just watching people trying to connect. Just a few moments of madness in a day of Zooming with the Elders. Then Andy decided to write a script incorporating all the work we were doing. It became funnier and funnier as the weeks went on. It was a fabulous time to laugh together and forget what was going on in the world. You will never have this same experience again, so I have embraced it and have some great memories. I began writing short stories, monologues and poems, which I shared with the group. With their support and encouragement I cannot stop writing.”

The Royal Exchange Elders Company, with current members aged between 61 and 87, has been running for 6 years and includes several strands of work. The Elders Company are a resident company who meet every Friday for creative workshop sessions with professional theatre makers and have the opportunity to work towards the development of a production for the Exchange. The Elders Leaders are graduates of the Company working closely with the theatre to manage sessions and support new members. Alongside this the Exchange also runs Elders Mondays, a twice monthly ‘open-day’ welcoming anyone over the age of fifty to take part in workshops, drama games, writing groups and much more. All of the activity for the Royal Exchange Elders has continued online.

Andy Barry, Elders Programme Manager added;
When we went into lockdown, we realised the importance of keeping the company connected. Once we had got on top of the technology, it was clear the group wanted to find moments to have fun and laugh. Despite the challenges we were facing as an industry it felt important to not only lift people’s spirits but also to keep making art. Some of the company members had been due to travel to Japan with our 2018 production, MOMENTS THAT CHANGED OUR WORLD and perform at an international Arts and Ageing Festival at the Saitama Arts Centre, Tokyo as part of the 2020 Cultural Olympiad. Because of Covid, the trip was postponed and eventually cancelled. Following this disappointment, we shifted our focus to creating A FUNNY THING HAPPENED IN ISOLATION. I hope people will enjoy our efforts.”

Alongside this project the Elders have also been involved with PHONE A FRIEND. The project was designed for people who wanted to do something creative with another person, but who were facing barriers to taking part online or who were just Zoomed out! Participants who signed up to the project were partnered with an Elders Leader, who contacted them four times on the phone for a 30-minute call during a two-week period. During each call, the pair had a chat, caught up and explored some creative questions so that together they created a story. Eighteen new stories have been created and are free to download so that anyone can phone a friend. www.royalexchange.co.uk/phone-a-friend

The Exchange continue to run the Elders sessions online, making a space in which the community can get together and share their experiences creatively.