They’re trapped indoors, cut off from their families, and the only means of communication they have is a mysterious video calling service that no-one can quite figure out. Sound familiar?
Katrina Rose, creator of ‘paused. a musical in self-isolation’, has found a way to address the emotions and fears we have about the pandemic without needing to mention the virus. Along with the co-writers and composers of ‘paused.’ (Natasha DuPrez, Erin Fletcher, Eleanor Palmer, and Molly Ghinn), Rose has put together a microcosmic version of the world we’re already living in – but in such a way that we’re able to see it from the outside.
How do you stage a musical when your actors can’t be in the same room together? Probably my favourite parts of ‘paused.’ are the interactions between characters that are not only on the video call between the eight main characters, but who are also supposed to be able to see each other in real life. Young siblings Riley (Alex Hancock) and Jamie (Eleanor Palmer) are stuck at home without their mother, and thanks to clever video and audio editing (Freyja Stevens and Kit Treadwell) it’s easy to forget that they’re not in fact in the same kitchen. The same technique is used for Lily (Amy Lever) and Braeden (Archie Griffiths), a disaffected couple who launch into a duet at retired nurse Elaine’s (Nicole Tilby) suggestion that they open up to each other. It might be video trickery, but to see Lever and Griffiths singing together is compelling and emotional.
‘paused.’ is at its most wonderful when its characters are singing. Rose, Fletcher, Ghinn, Palmer, and Du Prez have taken advantage of their medium to layer instruments and create a small orchestra from four musicians (Amatta Mirandari, Ella Comish, Ghinn, and Rose). Similarly, the rich vocal arrangements mean that when the cast members sing in harmony, they are also in gallery view, and it’s as if you are in the video call with them. The spoken lines are a little slow in pace, but that said, time lag is the reality of a video call. Everyone involved with ‘paused.’ should be commended for their impressive level of coordination – it’s hard enough to put together a musical together under normal circumstances. The ingenuity of ‘paused.’ is that it is both by and for people in isolation, so it’s not hard to find our own worries reflected in those of the characters.
The eight protagonists of ‘paused.’ aren’t sure whether the world is ending or not, and they all have different theories. Climate scientist Hannah (Du Prez) thinks that pausing the world might end up being good for the environment, while vlogger Tara (Alex Lindsay) is more sceptical. Good-natured Kim (Dominic Carrington) suggests it might be Gaia taking back the planet, although he’s more preoccupied by the safety of his children. I won’t spell the ending out here, but ‘paused.’ concludes by managing to be optimistic without ignoring any of the issues at hand. Some of the characters have more to lose than others, and no grand resolutions are made, but everyone in ‘paused.’ seems to leave the video call more hopeful than they started. As an isolated audience member, I think I did too.