Culture Writer Vicky Wilson reviews Coronavirus: A Great British Farce, praising the fantastic acting of the two-man cast, and the show’s ability to bounce between the absurd and the upsetting with humour and empathy

Written by Victoria Wilson

Though at times recreating the claustrophobia of lockdown life so accurately that it was a relief to leave the theatre and get outside after the show, ‘Coronavirus: A Great British Farce,’ written by Mark Daniels and directed by Edwina Strobl, is relatable, reflective, and utterly ridiculous. Based on Daniels’ lockdown diaries, it follows Joe, a man navigating isolation alone, through his stockpiling-wet-wiping-slightly-delirious existence. After watching government daily briefings, he strikes up conversations with Boris Johnson, his fridge, and his houseplant, in an attempt to understand both the figures on scientific graphs and the policies of prominent government figures. Edward Bartram’s portrayal of this universal allegorical figure of life in lockdown carried the audience from laughter to empathy to even more laughter, all without leaving his apartment, as Joe struggles to understand the elusive R number, tackles feelings of uselessness, and fails to get past the first line of Mrs Dalloway.

Bartram’s portrayal of […] life in lockdown carried the audience from laughter to empathy to even more laughter

Complimenting this, Kathryn Haywood’s performance warps and merges Boris, a fridge and a plant into a hilariously frustrating, overly optimistic ‘reassuring’ presence. She strikes the perfect balance of satire and slapstick, mocking the contradictory, uncertain and confusing response of the UK government to the pandemic. Ultimately, the show felt genuine and relevant; it offers a cathartic release from the events of the past years through comedy.

The set was simple but effective, using tape to map out the apartment, embellished with toilet rolls, anti-bac spray and various other symbols of lockdown. This mirrored the claustrophobic monotony of isolation effectively and was brought to life by the actors, whose energetic performances bounced off one another creating an all too familiar and relatable atmosphere for the audience. Haywood’s shifts in character, signified by movement across different podiums in the government briefing and then into the apartment itself, were particularly impressive as she maintained a hilarious thread of chaotic energy throughout, somehow blurring the lines between Matt Hancock and a fridge.

The show’s relatable grounded nature made it irresistibly funny

From Joe’s juxtaposing feelings of excitement yet apprehension at the thought of going out to eat, to his utter fascination, romanticising the snow as a beautiful sprinkle of ‘God’s dandruff,’ the show’s relatable grounded nature made it irresistibly funny. In particular, I found the scene where he struggles to picture how far two meters is, aided, unhelpfully, by government officials spouting nonsense on 30cm rulers, hilarious as it resurfaced memories of squinting at my arm span puzzling over the distance. Daniels’ repetition of random motifs such as ‘Hands, Face, Space,’ Vienetta ice cream and Elton John lyrics insidiously spirals the show into an insane flurry of chaos, which drags the audience back into that repetitive Groundhog-Day-like way of existence. Along with Joe, the audience began to question if they were losing their mind… to which the solution, of course, was to ask Alexa. 

Running parallel to this madness, however, was a serious contemplation on loneliness and loss in the wake of Covid. The lights dimmed a little as Joe worked through feelings of worthlessness after being rejected from a job at Tesco’s, whilst the official reported rising numbers of deaths, framed by commentary on the racist and classist rhetoric of the Conservative government and mainstream media. Through partnerships with local charities, the team ensured sensitive material was approached appropriately. They closed the performance with a speech to direct anyone struggling with loneliness or mental health issues to various Birmingham based charities and encouraged the audience to send the postcard, placed on their seat, to somebody who might be experiencing loneliness.

Running parallel to this madness, however, was a serious contemplation on loneliness and loss in the wake of Covid

As lockdown itself did, ‘Coronavirus: A Great British Farce’ proves the power comedy and art can hold in boosting wellbeing and finding relief in the light of traumatic experiences. Daniels brings humour, satire, and absurdity together with reflection on serious themes to create a cleverly crafted tone that united and tickled the audience. Keep an eye out for a potential future tour of this show – it is not one to miss.


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