Theatre review | Until The Ad Break – Maverick Charles Productions

The Edinburgh Fringe Festival is just one more cancelled event of 2020 – another calendrical casualty of COVID-19.

Fortunately, thanks to the prevalence of online theatre filling the void left by temporarily empty stages, we don’t have to entirely miss out.

Online@TheSpace is one example of how the Fringe is being digitised. They’ve been hosting an online festival since the start of August, showcasing original work created in lockdown for audiences craving their Fringe fix – for free.

One of the shows featured in this event made its way into my inbox this week for a review. Maverick Charles Productions’ Until the Ad Break is a reimagined scene from their 2018 sellout show,  21 Minutes, created and recorded in lockdown – naturally!

Until The Ad Break offers up a beloved daytime TV show being broadcast, unfortunately, at the end of the world.

Presenters Francine Quick and Dale Maxton, with their weatherman Gabriel Spring, soldier on with their schedule of segments and reports as life falls apart around them, desperately trying to stay chirpy and professional in the face of disaster. It doesn’t take long before realisation hits, and they decide how they want to spend their final moments – all live on air on ‘The Hello Show’.

This show is performed on screens filmed in the familiar format of a video call, which suits the storyline perfectly; the team have made their idea fit well with the tools they have at hand. It’s short enough to keep your attention, but long enough for some sort of coherent plot to reveal itself. There’s also no time for dallying, so there’s plenty of action crammed into less than half an hour’s-worth of show. At times it’s almost too fast-paced, and it can be a little hard to follow, but this adds to the pressure that the characters find themselves in.

The creatives behind this have the daytime television stereotypes sussed out too. Both main presenters are pouty, professional and proud of their self image, but harbour secrets that reveal themselves when things get desperate. It’s larger than life, and perhaps not the most realistic – an interview with a murder hornet was one of the more surreal, and confusing, elements – but it’s clear the team are having fun working together.

For a small cast who are distant in location, they work well together and have genuine rapport and plenty of energy. There are a number of cutaway shots showing fans watching the show, which is a nice touch. The inclusion of tweets and ‘audience interactions’ which are a nice addition, too. The team have worked hard to ensure all the hallmarks of daytime tv are included.

While the apocalypse is a very familiar storyline, it could perhaps be somewhat timely, since the world as we knew it ground to a halt this year. The panic and soul searching Dale and Francine go through before us mimic extremes of the many reactions we might have had at the start of lockdown – and may continue to have now. We re-evaluate our priorities, come clean about vices, and wonder if we really do want to be working when we should be putting our loved ones first.

While this show didn’t have me rolling on the floor in hysterics, or admiring slick storytelling and polished editing comparable with much of the online theatre we’ve seen this year, it has a silly sort of humour that keeps you watching. These homemade productions are what we should be watching, and supporting, to keep the arts world thriving while in-person performances are, on the most part, paused.

Until The Ad Break is light relief – and that’s what the Fringe is so often about. It’s a little unpolished, but made with the love of simple comedy, and makes for an entertaining twenty-ish minutes.

Perhaps you’ve wondered what daytime TV presenters would be doing on our screens if the apocalypse came during a segment of quinoa. Well, wonder no more.

Until The Ad Break is live until 30 August.

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