The empty stage: In A Nutshell by Ben Duke and Lost Dog

September 25, 2020

Charlotte Kasner

It is painful; but painfully funny too. Ben Duke’s In A Nutshell is a monologue, a eulogy, a lone man sitting in an empty auditorium talking to an invisible audience about what live theatre used to be and what it meant to him personally.

Remember when the coronavirus first hit and people talked about theatres closed for just a few months. A world with no theatre was still unimaginable. There may be a few green shoots but months down the line the whole industry is in serious jeopardy with it looking like most venues will be shuttered until at least well into 2021.

Duke, with his usual mix of melancholy and dark humour, imagines a world where theatres never open again and he finds himself explaining to a future generation what live performance was.

In faux naïve mode, he plays with the two emotions that are cascading down now that theatres are dark all over the nation. He toys with the critic’s dilemma of how to translate the physical medium of theatre into the abstract medium of written description. However, whilst this can sometimes be an exercise in reductionism, Duke manages to distil an essence of theatre from the point of view of an audience and the performer.

Along the way, Duke touches on themes of loneliness and isolation, the loss of human connections, and questions what is real in life, if we cannot share it together.

From the tangible to the intangible, the irony of watching a piece of film that basically explains why film is such a limited way of presenting dramatic works is not lost. But how we took for granted the theatrical experience, which has little sign of coming back soon, at least with any force. As Duke says, even if you never threw your shoe at Poseidon, you could have if you wanted to.

He recalls doing a duff performance. Never mind it was live. However miserable you were squashed up against the noisy sweet eater that had too much garlic for supper, bored by the work and toying with leaving at the interval, it was a vivid experience. After years of moaning about performances that were too loud, audiences that were too rude, I’d give anything to be back there.

We all would.

As the pop song says, “You don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone”.

Ben Duke just reminded us.

In A Nutshell is available free on The Place’s website until Thursday 22 October 2020.