You can catch the Offie-nominated dark satirical comedy Coronavirus – A Great British Farce, here on 18 November. We asked its writer, Mark Daniels, are we ready to laugh at Covid? He says we’re more than ready.
Imagine. You’ve been living alone during lockdown and, every day, you’ve written a diary. A stream-of-consciousness type of diary about… everything and nothing.
A chronicling of “unprecedented” times seen through the eyes of a non-expert living alone. It definitely makes for weird reading.
Then, towards the end of 2020, you’ve gone back through the entries you’ve written and pulled out all the strangest bits. Then you’ve exaggerated them and twisted and turned them into a play that begins as light fun and descends into complete and utter gibberish.
Then, in August 2021, just as lockdown rules are lifting, you decide to put this comedy on stage and invite an audience along to hear the inner-workings of your strange mind and, hopefully, to enjoy that experience and to laugh, laugh, laugh.
Well, that’s exactly what I did. And, believe me, on opening night, I was standing at the back of the theatre quite genuinely on the verge of tears as the lights went down.
Will anybody find this gibberish funny? Is anybody ready to laugh at the awful times we’ve been through? What sort of car crash am I about to unleash on the world?
To my relief – and certainly to the relief of the amazing actors on stage – people not only laughed, they guffawed. From beginning to end, with moments of sadness naturally in between.
Speaking to audiences after the show, the word “catharsis” came up again and again.
People seemed to find it genuinely – although I should say for legal reasons, definitely not medically – therapeutic to come together and laugh at something they had experienced separately.
They enjoyed realising that they were not the only people struggling. They felt a purging of emotions and confusion that they’d experienced so intensely at the time but that they hadn’t found an outlet for previously.
One reviewer said: “Thanks to Joe (the main character), I no longer feel quite so alone.”
It seems many people have had a feeling that there’s been some expectation of “okay, we’re back to normal, head out and enjoy yourselves”.
But it’s not actually that easy. And we shouldn’t be ignoring the experiences we all faced during isolation.
Research by the charity Campaign To End Loneliness shows there are nine million lonely people in the UK, regardless of the Covid pandemic. Indeed, loneliness is a pandemic of its own.
Lockdowns opened up new discussions about it and the charity is working to make sure we learn from Covid to increase discussion, understanding and solutions for loneliness in the long-term.
Although older people are disproportionately affected, they are by no means the only group who suffer.
For this reason, looking back over earlier periods of the pandemic and digesting those experiences, with the help of the arts and of laughter, is not only something that I now believe to be possible, I believe it to be really important.
If you don’t think you’re ready, perhaps it’s the job of things like theatre to make you ready. But how can we satirise a period that’s so dark and make sure we don’t trivialise it?
My play certainly leans into the fact that I felt confused by some of the early messaging coming from the government during their briefings.
It’s tough to satirise someone when they are doing something seemingly more ridiculous than the things your imagination could even conjure up – Barnard Castle eye test anyone?
Personally, I’ve chosen a surreal, absurd style of theatre to pull out the funniness and to keep a certain silly lightness, even in the darkness of the topic. That said, I believe there are lots of ways you could write and perform something funny about Coronavirus.
I believe it’s important we look at our own lives, our own reactions and those of our politicians, so that we can start discussions and learn something new. If we can do that all together in a theatre while having a laugh, even better!
It’s not about trivialising. If anything, it’s about commemorating and analysing a monumental human experience. So are we ready to laugh about the times we’ve been through? I wasn’t sure in August. But now, I very much am.
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