A Garden Zoom

Jul 23 2020 | By More

Big Mind bring Havel play to Zoom

Vaclav Havel’s absurdist comedy, The Garden Party, is to get three live Zoom performances by Edinburgh-based Big Mind Theatre over the next three evenings.

The play, published in 1964, parodies the bureaucracies of the communist party in Czechoslovakia, the country where Havel later became the final president – and subsequently the first president of the Czech Republic. It is being performed on Zoom from Thurs 23 to Sat 25 July 2020 at 7.30pm.

Artwork for The Garden Party by Caitlin Allen

The story follows Hugo Pludek, thrown by his concerned parents into the bureaucratic world of an office garden party. Hugo adopts the employees’ stilted style of speech so well that he not only ascends the corporate ladder but, when he returns home, his parents do not recognise him.

The play is not just a deft commentary on empty communication and fake office culture, but has new relevance on the online stage, according to Big Mind Theatre, which is venturing into a Zoom production after the success of its 2019 EdFringe production, Going Slightly Mad (★★★★☆ Fast paced).

“When I first read The Garden Party I remember being struck by how funny and relatable its depiction of office politics and jargon is,” director Katrina Woolley told Æ.

focus on language

“When I was looking for something to direct over Zoom I thought that The Garden Party’s focus on language would translate well to a virtual performance. And that the two settings of the play, the family and corporate worlds, reflected some of the main ways that Zoom has been used during lockdown.”

Woolley had been toying with the idea of staging a play over Zoom at the start of lockdown, particularly because of the benefit of being part of a creative process and working with other people to make a show.

However, because it seemed that lockdown would only last a few weeks she was worried that things would be back to normal before she could finish rehearsals – and that people wouldn’t want to watch a play on Zoom if they had a choice.

She resuscitated the idea as lockdown extended and the implications for live theatre became more obvious. Although she didn’t turn to other Zoom productions for her ideas.

“I’ve actually been avoiding watching recent Zoom performances so that I’m not too influenced by their choices,” she says. “I have rather been focused on looking at how Zoom is being used in non-theatre contexts (among families, friends, for work meetings, trainings and “organised fun”) to help translate the text’s distinct commentary on these settings onto the platform.”

moulded by the online format

Using Zoom has become an opportunity, then, rather than a challenge to be overcome, as she explains: “For us this has meant really leaning into the Zoom setting. The office garden party has become an online event and the cast are performing as though the characters are actually communicating over Zoom, along with all the confusion, hilarity, share screens and virtual backgrounds that involves.”

It is not just the staging which has been moulded by the online format. Woolley says that Zoom has affected or altered nearly every aspect of the show, from casting and rehearsals to the audience and even her future attitude to directing.

She says: “I think it is also an opportunity in ways less specific to the performance itself. We have been able to cast performers from all over the UK and the show will be able to be watched by anyone in any country, which is incredible.

“I’ve also found that the Zoom platform has allowed me to reflect on how I run rehearsals and give direction, since I’m required to hold the space in a very different way. I’m sure it will inform my future non-Zoom work.”

The Garden Party
Online via Zoom:
Thursday 23 – Saturday 25 July 2020
Evenings: 7.30pm (BST)
Further details: Facebook Event Page

Tickets (£4-£7):
Thursday, July 23:  www.eventbrite.com
Friday, July 24: www.eventbrite.com
Saturday, July 25: www.eventbrite.com


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Comments (1)

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  1. Marie Eaton Smith says:

    I watched this evening (Saturday), I was engrossed by the play, so funny. I had forgotten the bureaucracy of office speak. I remember people like this, and they were amusing too. Thank you.