A Manchester theatre company which swapped the stage for a screen due to the Covid-19 pandemic has had its work recognised with a prestigious award.
Elysium Theatre Company has just released five new online plays, days after being announced as Olwen Wymark Award-winners by the Writers’ Guild of Great Britain, for its work in supporting new writing.
The company, which also has a base in Durham, began producing The Covid-19 Monologues last year on its new YouTube channel after the pandemic closed all theatres, as a way to bring the Arts to audiences on-screen.
Elysium co-founder and Director, Jake Murray, can’t wait for the world to see the next five Covid-19 Monologues, which are online now.
The pioneering approach involved commissioning writers to pen monologues on any subject, which and these were then rehearsed and directed over Zoom and filmed with social distancing measures in place.
Speaking about the award, Jake said: “I was completely stunned and very honoured. New writing is the life blood of theatre. We’re all trying to find the Shakespeare of the future. People forget that the classics we have been watching for years were all new plays once.
“We have now produced the work of ten playwrights and have built a platform on which we can do more new writing going into the future. It has transformed the company and the idea of what we can do.
“Covid forced us online, and this whole process of the monologues is a prime case of ‘necessity is the mother of invention’. We’ve loved it – it’s a whole new medium. It’s not film and it’s not theatre, but somewhere in between.
“We are so excited to be bringing another five fantastic play to the people, all of which have been created by a set of supremely-talented writers and performed by some incredible actors.”
The latest online releases from the company, which has staged four theatre productions in Manchester since forming in 2017, include two performed and written by some of the area’s biggest theatrical talents.
Hannah Ellis Ryan played Liz McDonald’s fake daughter Hannah Gilmore in Coronation Street in 2018, and has written comedy ‘Oh By The Way I Hate Myself’, performed by Laura Littlewood.
Laura’s character Beth has just returned from her mother’s funeral and after a few glasses of wine tells the ‘truth’ about her dearly departed mother.
Hannah is Elysium’s co-founder and in-house producer, and is also theatre manager at Hope Mill Theatre, in East Manchester.
She said: “I am fascinated by the current obsession with YouTubers, where people will spend hours watching someone talking into a camera and sharing their thoughts.
“It is not unusual for someone nowadays to sit and watch someone speaking almost directly to them, and I guess that is why the Covid-19 Monologues work so well.
“What the Monologues have given us is something very different to live theatre – it all feels very intimate. Each monologue has one person almost one on-one with the person watching on the other side of the screen.
“It has been amazing getting to develop new skills and learn new aspects of working with online as a medium, and I am sure our online work will continue in some way once theatres reopen.”
‘I Just Called to Say’, is written by Rani Moorthy, a Malaysian-born actor and writer, now based in Manchester, and best known for playing hugely popular character Mrs Bilal in Citizen Khan.
The plot focuses on a young man, played by Alex Townson, who, while watching his father in ICU you on his tablet, unburdens himself about their abusive relationship.
Rani said: “I have written and starred in a lot of one-woman shows so it is something I enjoy doing and seem to thrive on, so when Jake asked me to write for the Covid-19 Monologues I was always going to say yes!
“I have been part of four Zoom pieces in the past year now, and haven’t done anything live for almost two years. It’s not film, it’s not TV, it’s not theatre – it’s a kind of hybrid that came out of necessity. We are all just trying to do what we can do in the circumstances.
“For someone like Jake his work can thrive using Zoom. You don’t have to transport actors in from different places, really it doesn’t matter where they are in the world they can be part of projects like these. It gives you freedom.”
The other online plays include Blackmail: A Reiver Tale, set in Northumberland 1601, written by Steve Byron and starring North East actor Micky Cochrane.
It is set during the era of the Reivers, when the English-Scottish borders were dominated by criminal families, who terrorised the land with extortion, blackmail and murder, and tells the tale of an ordinary man, who, provoked by the Reivers, takes the law into his own hands.
One Small Globe, a comedy centred on a struggling actor who has been out of work since Covid-19 closed theatres and who finds a new ‘out-of-this-world’ job, was written by North East-based Janet Plater and stars Jake Jarratt.
Fake, a drama, was written by former Emmerdale and Byker Grove writer Chris Barlas and performed by Karren Winchester, and centres on Marion, an ‘online warrior’ and Covid-19 conspiracy theorist.
Jake Murray is son of the late famous theatre director Braham Murray, one of the five founding Artistic Directors of the Royal Exchange.
With Elysium, he has come back to his Manchester roots and invested in local talent, giving a boost to the city he grew up in.
Jake added: “When we founded Elysium we were all from other parts of the country, but we knew we that to become a company that truly believed in the North we had to have local artists and technicians at the heart of things.
“With these monologues we are really getting there. They have given us the means to think big in the future, and to really expand once Covid is over.”
The monologues range from 15 to 30 minutes long and are free to access on Elysium’s YouTube channel Elysium TC. To access them go to https://tinyurl.com/3swj6cc
For more information on Elysium and their productions, find them on social media at @ElysiumTC or go to www.elysiumtc.co.uk