In A Nutshell – Lost Dog

Apr 6, 2021

Martha Buss

Martha Buss


Venue: The Place (digital viewing)
Date: 8 October 2020
Ticket price: Free

An anxious monologue from the future, retelling theatre’s seemingly forgotten past.

Between September and October 2020, The Place offered free viewings of Lost Dog’s award-winning short film In a Nutshell. Conceived and performed singularly by Artistic Director Ben Duke, viewers were transported to an empty auditorium in the not-so-distant future to experience a melancholic ramble set in an alternate reality.

Duke, performing as a version of himself, sits alone and nervously addresses us from a place where live theatre is a thing of the past. He moves through anecdotal aspects of a buzzing auditorium, from buying snacks at the bar to awkwardly shuffling to your seat: centrally reminiscent of when people were allowed within 2 meters of each other! In approaching this subject, he struggles to comprehend the closeness that was once so normal in our society. Whether on a commuter train or in a theatre, it was not unusual to be packed into places of profit prior to March 2020 and this fast-paced modern-day showed no signs of slowing until we were forced to recoil from such proximity. The ‘new normal’ we now live in has been exaggerated (hopefully…) to become a permeant perspective from which Duke’s character reflects from. No direct mention is given to COVID-19 or a pandemic of any sort, but the conditions around the release of In a Nutshell allow the audience to make the obvious connection.

With momentary blackouts and snap edits, the monologue is framed informally throughout. Duke’s tentative delivery in conjunction with exceptional use of expression intrigued me from the start and certainly enforces his accolades as a skilled performer. The explanations of how theatrical events use to unfold are delivered with painfully dry humour comparable to that in a Ricky Gervais sitcom. His particular clarification of how the art of acting is essentially just pretending certainly drew me to recollect a scene in Gervais’ Extras with Sir Ian McKellen. In processing the irony of his glumness in a (once) entertainment setting, I allow a half-smile to creep through.

Ben Duke in In a Nutshell© Rachel Bunce

Duke’s struggle to articulate his thoughts and attempts to bridge the gap between ‘past’ and ‘present’ add a playful clumsiness and remains enjoyable despite setting a predictable tone for the whole piece. Live performance is so far from reality in the future that In a Nutshell is set, that the concept of a character on stage is foolishly difficult to encapsulate. His half-hearted attempts to describe iconic performances further enhances the deadpan comedy e.g. ‘there was the one with that women’ and ‘Hamlet was on there [the stage] a lot’. Being able to laugh at how a deeply artistic industry can be described in such a nonsensical way is the USP for this piece and one that I was happy to get on board with for the purposes of light entertainment.

Concluding his exhaustive attempt at description Duke sighs, ‘I don’t know why we went, it was a hassle’. Perhaps this statement has traces of truth, but viewers are left more encouraged to question what they miss about live theatre and why it was in fact worth any associated hassle. The palpable energy of performers and fellow audience members usually bonds an auditorium on a shared journey. With such depth and dimensionality lost in the future that Duke presents, these journeys are compromised.

In a Nutshell highlights how the opportunity for social cohesion may be lost in a future where art is only produced for the camera, suggesting that it can easily become a bland singular experience. After only 16 minutes, the short-film ends on Duke doubting that anyone is still watching. Although evidently useful in times of separation, Duke’s uneasy loneliness here prompts us to think about how the increased utilisation of technology may be damaging our perception of reality.

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