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mini-review of Sea Wall, an online film of a play starring Andrew Scottyoutube

If you stream just one piece of theatre from home this week, I highly recommend catching Sea Wall while it is still online.

You may know the Irish actor Andrew Scott for playing the “Hot Priest” in the British television series Fleabag, but he is also an acclaimed stage actor on his side of the ocean, with an Olivier Award-nominated performance of Hamlet under his belt.

English playwright Simon Stephens wrote Sea Wall, a short one-man play, for him in 2012 – and Scott has now performed it for a camera set up in what looks like a photographer’s studio. The resulting one-shot film is available on YouTube only until May 25 at 4 p.m. ET.

Sea Wall is a gut-punch of a monologue, brilliantly performed by Scott as a reluctant confessional. It’s a peek into the scattered mind of a man who has such an easy charm that it takes the viewer a long time to realize he is using his slyly sheepish smile to mask a terrible personal tragedy.

I tweeted the other day that in this performance Scott “wriggles his way in through your branches – and then chops you right down.” He has a way of playing self-deprecating that feels entirely original, and he seems to have endless tricks up his sleeves in terms of compelling ways to not finish a sentence.

Running just 34 minutes, Sea Wall is the perfect length for online viewing, and I’d rather not say all that much more about it to avoid spoiling its effect. The director Marianne Elliott once described Stephens’s plays to me as being populated with characters who are “deeply, deeply keening with a sense of yearning and desire through sadness.” This is a perfect description of Scott’s character in Sea Wall.

If you’re not familiar with Stephens, he is one of the leading British playwrights of his generation and won a Tony Award for his stage adaptation of the novel The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. But he also is one of my favourite podcast hosts, recording The Playwrights’ Podcast from his office at the Royal Court, England’s leading new-work theatre. There are now four seasons of Stephens’ entertainingly inside-baseball interviews with playwrights that you can listen to online or wherever you find your podcasts.

Playwright Kat Sandler has gone from self-producing at Fringe Festivals to major productions at many of Canada’s most important not-for-profit stages over the past decade – bringing comedy and fantasy along with her to stages that have sometimes seemed to be allergic to those genres.

This week, there’s a Sandler double-bill of sorts being made available online.

On Friday at 5:30 p.m. ET, Factory Theatre presents a new short work of hers written specifically for online performance called The Coalition. Michael Musi, a very funny actor and longtime Sandler collaborator now well-known from his role as Terence on Kim’s Convenience, stars as a retired superhero. The intriguing synopsis: “The world is being threatened by a deadly Mist – or is it a Fog? – that causes anyone who leaves their homes to explode.” You can register to watch here.

Next, on Saturday at 7 p.m. ET, the original cast of Sandler’s 2014 Fringe hit Punch Up reunites for a Zoom reading/presentation as part of the National Arts Centre’s #CanadaPerforms programming. The description of this one: “The Funniest Man Alive tries to help the Most Pathetic Guy Ever make the Saddest Girl in the World laugh.”

Here are a few more Canadian theatre productions hitting the Internet in some form or another this week that The Globe and Mail has reviewed positively in the past:

  • Theatre Smith-Gilmour, the veteran physical-theatre company, has made its adaptation of William Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying available to stream during the pandemic – all you have to do is sign up for their newsletter. Martin Morrow wrote of this show’s most recent incarnation: “They peel away much of the rich prose to expose the novel’s skeleton, and then reclothe it in the theatrical equivalent of literary pyrotechnics … their bouffon-meets-Southern Gothic approach ably captures its comic and grotesque sides.”
  • Christopher Morris’s Israel-set thriller The Runner is being released in an audio adaptation this week through the PlayME podcast, which I wrote about in this newsletter right at the start of the pandemic. The director Daniel Brooks’s staging of this solo show on a giant treadmill – you can read my recent interview with Brooks here – was a big part of its appeal to me when I gave it a four-star review. I will be interested to hear how it works without any visuals.
  • The Stratford Festival continues to release a new filmed production online every Thursday, but it has also started to take down a filmed production every Thursday as well. So this is your final warning: You only have a couple more days left to watch Robert Lepage’s incredible production of Coriolanus. (Read my review here.)
  • On Thursday, Stephen Ouimette’s 2017 production of Shakepeare’s rarely produced, hard-to-pigeonhole play Timon of Athens will be uploaded to replace it. Here’s my review of it on stage.

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