Distance Remaining is a trio of short plays made for the screen, each focused on the idea of a journey. What does that mean, in the constraints of Covid? What journeys are possible, when no one can go anywhere? Each of the three one-handers takes a very different approach, but all offer sharply captured insights into modern Scotland.
In Rug Rat, pensioner Jess (Dolina MacLennan) faces a very literal struggle. A fall has left her stranded on her living room floor, away from her phone and any way to summon help. Although clearly in pain and frightened, she is fretting less about her own safety and more about the wellbeing of her grandson, just out of prison and waiting for her to meet him; vulnerable, she fears, to the welcome of the old friends whose influence landed him inside in the first place.
It’s the rawest segment of the three, MacLennan’s vulnerability at times almost painful to watch, as she assesses the disappointments and losses of a lifetime, fierce in her determination that she will not fail her family today.
While Rug Rat is desperation tempered with bleak humour, Chase Scene is comedy seamed through with despair. Karen Dunbar is Lindsey, a volunteer driver delivering meals to those who are shielding. But under her superficial sunniness, she is a woman on the edge. Desperate to ensure she has a job to go back to, she is yearning for some kind of attention and connection, even if it’s just likes for the increasingly absurd #doingmybit selfies she takes on her route. Unsurprisingly given her comedic pedigree, Dunbar is at home with the humour of the piece, but she also deftly juggles laughter and empathy, as Lindsey’s cheeriness becomes ever more manic, exposing her frazzled, anxious core.
A third strong performance rounds out the set in Here, Boy. Reuben Joseph is Cam, a lonely teenager whose horizons feel even further hemmed in by Covid. Searching for his family’s wayward dog at the beach, he spirals into introspection and self-recrimination, even a fantasy escape hampered by the realities of the pandemic.
Although the production isn’t offering anything particularly ground-breaking (beyond the achievement of actually getting something made at all right now, which is a miracle not to be minimised), what it sets out to do, it does well. Writer Stewart Melton skilfully captures three very different voices, empathetically directed by Caitlin Skinner. It’s also refreshing to hear Scottish accents treated just as a way real people actually speak, rather than some comic tic (this shouldn’t be the rarity it is, but even the supposed democracy of digitalisation seems to have done little to dent the domination of southern voices).
Created for a digital tour, the piece nonetheless embraces the staginess of theatre. Both Rug Rat and Chase Scene make a feature of the fact they are filmed plays, sets and projection screens clearly visible, before we step into the more expansive outdoors of the final segment. The affect is oddly contrary, as if in owning up to the obvious artifice, the core truths of the stories are revealed.
Distance Remaining tours digitally around Scotland until 9th May. More info here.