LOCKDOWN Theatre Festival launches as part of BBC Arts Culture in Quarantine initiative

LOCKDOWN Theatre Festival was created by actor Bertie Carvel in response to the closure of theatres amid the coronavirus crisis. This “scratch festival” will bring to the airwaves of BBC Radio 3 and Radio 4 stage plays that had their scheduled runs cancelled or cut short by the pandemic.

The actors will link up via the internet to record “down the line” from isolation, drawing on the muscle memory of fully realised stage productions to reimagine their performances for the radio.

Roy Alexander Weise & Bryony Shanahan (Joint Artistic Directors — Royal Exchange, Manchester):
“ROCKETS AND BLUE LIGHTS is beautiful, poetic and important. It is a play that opens up our history and gives voice to those people who have so often felt silenced. So it was heart-breaking to have to close the show before its press night, for it to be denied an audience and for the audience to be denied this incredible play. So to have our production included as part of the LOCKDOWN festival is just fantastic. It is time for it to be heard.”

Four productions will be broadcast across the Festival’s launch weekend 13 & 14 June as part of BBC Arts’ Culture in Quarantine initiative. Carvel said: “I want to create a cultural snapshot for posterity, because who knows what the future holds? Theatres up and down the country are facing an existential crisis. If I can find a way, every single production that has been forced off the stage because of the lockdown will find a new platform at this festival!”

Jonty Claypole, Director of BBC Arts commented: “When we launched Culture in Quarantine I was determined that we would support the performance sector by creating a repertory theatre of broadcast for audiences at home. Bertie’s ambitious project to shine a light on the work of theatres that had their runs cancelled, with Radio 3 and Radio 4, will add to our growing collection some of the very best theatre talents in the UK.”

The technical team have assembled home studio kits for each actor which are sterilised before and after delivery. Contributors are in lockdown all over the UK, from Northern Ireland to Birmingham. Recording of one of the plays will pause at 1pm while the cannon fires at Edinburgh Castle, near the home of one of the performers.

Jeremy Mortimer, who is producing the recordings for Reduced Listening on behalf of BBC Radio 3 and BBC Radio 4, said: “We want listeners at home to feel they are present at the press night performance.”

BBC Arts is broadcasting four plays across the Festival’s launch weekend. They are:

• Radio 4 - THE MIKVAH PROJECT by Josh Azouz — Orange Tree Theatre production directed by Georgia Green with sound design by Lex Krosanke. Cast includes: Alex Waldmann, Josh Zaré

• Radio 3 - LOVE LOVE LOVE by Mike Bartlett — Lyric, Hammersmith Theatre production directed by Artistic Director Rachel O’Riordan with sound design by Simon Slater. Cast includes: Nicholas Burns, Patrick Knowles, Isabella Laughland, Mike Noble, Rachael Stirling

• Radio 3 - ROCKETS AND BLUE LIGHTS by Winsome Pinnock — Royal Exchange, Manchester production directed by Miranda Cromwell with sound design by Elena Pena & music by Femi Temowo. Cast includes Anthony Aje, Paul Bradley, Karl Collins, Kiza Deen, Natey Jones, Rochelle Rose, Matthew Seadon-Young, Kudzai Sitima, Cathy Tyson, Everal A Walsh

• Radio 4 - SHOE LADY by E.V. Crowe —Royal Court Theatre production directed by Artistic Director Vicky Featherstone with sound design by Tony Gayle and music by Matthew Herbert. Cast includes: Archer Brandon, Tom Kanji, Kayla Meikle, Katherine Parkinson

All four productions were forced to close early — and in some cases after just a handful of performances. “This festival allows more people to hear the work and begins to create a sense of the breadth, passion, imagination and talent of this country’s incredible range of theatre-makers,” said Vicky Featherstone, whose production of Shoe Lady at the Royal Court Theatre will be revived.

Festival fringe events are also planned to focus attention on the crisis faced by theatres, with many organisations facing bankruptcy due to the prolonged closures. Carvel added: “I hope LOCKDOWN Theatre Festival will demonstrate our community’s positivity and resilience — but also shine a light on the challenges we face.”