PACT Theatre, February 10


If you’re younger than two, you won’t remember that, once upon a time, enough plans actually came to fruition to encourage one to keep making more. Now most plans sink without a trace, but there can be a plus-side. At the exact moment that COVID kyboshed another intended review, an invitation arrived to attend the engaging and innovative Coil.

Calling itself “live cinema” aroused suspicions, given how often screens have filled our eyes in theatres in recent times. The odd show has worked, like STC’s The Picture of Dorian Gray, and most haven’t, like STC’s Julius Caesar. Coil sneaks into this fray from a quite different angle, and begins by neatly demolishing the fourth wall.

Steve Wilson-Alexander. Photos: Lucy Parakhina.

Steve Wilson-Alexander constantly swaps between being himself and being a character working in a video shop, which, happily, is more amusing than bemusing. The piece, devised by the re:group collective, is an elegy for video shops, or perhaps it’s more multimedia epitaph on their collective grave; a grave, as Wilson-Alexander tells us, that’s the direct result of our insatiable thirst for ease. Less directly the piece is also an elegy for bookshops, record shops, music venues and, in a delicious irony, theatres – presumably of the unscreened variety. Video shops, you will note, have died within almost exactly the same time span as screens have begun infesting our stages.

On a set depicting a video store, Wilson-Alexander tells us not just of these institutions’ demise, but also re:group’s history, and meanwhile he’s being filmed by Solomon Thomas, while Carly Young sits at a bank of computer screens, and later becomes an actor.

The process of performing the “play” incorporates the shooting of a short film (also called Coil, written by Mark Rogers), and just over halfway through the 55-minute duration, we swap from mainly live action to mainly watching what has been filmed, albeit intertwined with more live performance and videoing. The complete theatrical/filmic experience has an appeal that is variously nostalgic, philosophical and comedic, while also dealing with friendship, romance and collaboration.

Although the technological command is dazzling, the first half is much more engaging than the film that’s the end product. Nonetheless it’s quite unlike any other use of cameras and screens I’ve seen on a stage, and I have COVID to thank for seeing it.