Distance Remaining review – pandemic drama takes an uplifting turn

Like the virus itself, online theatre has come in waves. For much of its 75-minute duration, Stewart Melton’s play seems to belong to the first – that time last spring when writers were preoccupied with disconnection and loneliness. By the autumn, artists were looking outward and playing with form, which makes Melton’s tale of three lost souls, one of them newly furloughed, feel like it’s from an earlier time.

Except there’s something in the structure of Distance Remaining that suggests a new variant. It is slow to reveal itself and we don’t always know where the digressions are taking us, but this could be the third wave: a Covid play offering the possibility of hope.

What sustains it, however, are the superb performances. Every time director Caitlin Skinner reminds us of the artifice, pulling the camera out to show the limits of Jen McGinley’s set, her actors sink us back into the moment.

Best of all is Dolina MacLennan, frighteningly authentic as a woman who has taken a fall in her living room. Seth Hardwick’s camera moves in close as she lies on the floor (her monologue is called Rug Rat), catching not only a painful bruise but every hard-bitten note of contempt, every undisguised look of affection and every determined gesture to go on.

Karen Dunbar plays with a similar range of emotions as a volunteer driver delivering food parcels while fretting over her proper job and ignoring her love life. Like MacLennan, she is at once tough and vulnerable. In the third monologue, Reuben Joseph brings emotional honesty to the role of a dog walker whose thoughts drift from the victimisation of the past to the isolation of the present as he, like the play itself, strives for resolution.

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