Written by Anna Cunningham and directed by Bisi Adigun, The Journey Home is a play based on a true-life story which took place back in November 1945 during the second World War. It is the story of an Irish family caught up in a situation where Peter and his teenage son, Tommy, live somewhere in battle-ridden Britain, while his wife Mary lives back home in Ireland, with the rest of the family.
The Journey Home is the first of 10 plays, written by 10 writers, in development by 10Page Productions, whose co-producers are Aduke Gomez and Ladi Dawodu.
Featuring a cast of three, Michael Mccabe plays Peter, Caitriona Ni Thresaigh stars as Mary, while Tommy is played by Sean Egan.
Ushered in, after few seconds of darkness, a bearded, war-worn Peter appeared on screen in a box, calling his wife, Mary in a black and white video call, who emerges, carrying a mimed baby, tea cup in hand.
Their conversation takes place in a split-screen. An elated Mary submits her child to her one of their children, who is off-screen to talk with her husband who is faraway in a war-torn part of Britain. Costumed in a suit and a tie and a cap, Peter assures Mary that all is well with him where he is, while Mary gives him an update on the state of their household.
Midway into their dialogue, the little baby is returned to Mary who seizes the opportunity to show Peter the young one. Peter is excited to see the baby. Missing his family, Peter wishes he was with them and that becomes the perfect excuse for Mary to reveal her plans of bringing the family to live with him in the part of town he is staying.
Just then, the video call develops network issues as Peter is scrambled off the screen just before he could respond to his wife’s scary plan of bringing the whole family to visit him. The first scene fades on Mary frantically trying to get her husband back on the line.
Second scene fades in on Mary, in a Scaff, amid the background horn from a ship, suggesting she must be near a harbour, as she speaks with her son, Tommy, who is staying with his father. Unlike the first scene, where she spoke to Peter, she now occupies the left part of the square box-like split-screen, while Tommy, looking bruised with a patch on the left portion of his cheek.
As usual, Mary is worried seeing her son looking like a refugee who briefly escaped to have a chat with his mother. Like his father, Tommy tries to calm his mum from worrying too much over him and his dad. Still, she lets him know she is not comfortable that her 15-year old son, wearing just a monkey-jacket and a cap like his father’s, playing around in a war-ridden part of the country where bombs fly about. She commits him to keep secret, her coming with the family to Coventry for a surprise visit to his father. The second scene fades out on an astounded Tommy.
The sound of bombs in the background brings in a scared Mary trying to connect with her husband, as she hopes she has not made the wrong decision shipping the whole family in a war situation just to pay a surprise visit to their father.
In this scene, unlike the first in which she was on the right, while Peter sat left, she retains the left of the screen, while Peter chats with her on the right. He comes on, in the video call, but in a hurry and while he is telling her, he is a in a hurry because it is not a good time to talk, Mary shocks him with the news of her arrival at Coventry.
Peter, who is visibly worried and scared, demands to know where they are and Mary tells him they are in a bomb shelter somewhere in the Town. Bombs raining harder now, an unhappy Peter reprimands his wife, who could have saved everyone this needless fear and worry, staying in Ireland. She tells she just wanted to be with him because she was bored playing House-keeper to the children, farms and the drudgery of daily routine without him around.
Surprised that even Tommy, who has been with him, was secretly co-opted into this unholy plot, Peter’s concern, now, is how to keep her and the rest of the family she brought with her, safe. So, he commands her to stay put, assuring her that Tommy, who knows his way around will ensure she is taken to the right place where the family will be safe. He hurriedly leaves to proceed on this change in plans to rescue and settle his family.
Mary is left alone now, as light fades out on her, now in a state of fear and trepidation, as she wonders what happens next.
The next, but last scene, shows Mary with her visibly scared son, Tommy, who is fully dressed in a long sleeve sweater, still adorned in his dad’s cap. Amid the unceasing bullets and bombs, he wonders how they have managed to survive so far. His worried mum asks him to go fetch his father. The less than 11 minutes play ends on that note.
A zoom stage play, The Journey Home is, indeed, a journey into the uncharted waters of tele-‘conference’ play. Difficult in keeping attention in a busy medium as a phone or laptop device, where one can be distracted with multiple messages in minutes, the Viewer’s attention is sustained by the force of the actors’ interpretation of the story and the relatable energy of the plot.
However, unlike the literal stage where illusions of reality can be manipulated successfully, this virtual theatre is not strong enough to keep that illusion as every aspect of the show is zoomed out for all to see. For instance, the mimed baby could not be hidden for too long as the wrapped clothe with something that is supposed to give the illusion of a baby is quickly shattered and almost became a disturbing distraction since everyone can see through it as a fake baby. Of course, plus the fact that the baby doesn’t cry which also took away from Mary’s attempt to keep the child from crying during her chat with Peter in the first scene.
Bringing to the fore, how women can worsen a bad situation with their endless worries which are often unfounded, The Journey Home illustrates how Mary’s desperation to be with her husband who is struggling to keep safe in war-torn part of Britain, plunges the whole family into an uncertain crisis.
Although, a worthy experiment, I am not too optimistic that this virtual theatre can really hold a viewer’s attention as much as the physical theatre for so many factors. The Theatre auditorium conditions your mind against any distraction as it connects your imagination into the world created by the play even before the show starts. In a zoom theatre, on the other hand, your mind is free to wander as the freedom to respond to so many diverse messages takes away from the energy required to concentrate on the play.
Had The Journey Home, journeyed past 11 minutes, I am not sure it would have been able to sustain the strength of its appeal.
For a piece, that was, similarly, virtually directed, The Journey Home, pushes the bounds of Live Theatre and in its determination to capture a virtual audience in a COVID-19 era, it has begun a journey into Zoom Theatre production and performances I hope will develop as it goes along.
Chris Paul Otaigbe is a Nigerian journalist, stage and screen actor, and a drama critic. He will be a frequent contributor to bookartville.com