Review - Lost Connections
A haunting look at the creative struggle through the pandemic that is sure to resonate with the many that have been affected. Jazz Hands Productions brings us 'Lost Connections' by Felix Westcott which, through many delays and struggles, finally hit our overused screens for a much awaited half an hour.
The show follows Josh, played by Josh Willetts, a dancer who is shielding in late 2020 and is forced to practice and persevere trapped in a small room. He keeps himself on track by creating a vlog which allows us to follow his journey towards what he hopes will be a chance to get out and perform in late February. Through video calls with his partner, played by Tamsin Sandford Smith, we get a further insight into his struggle, longing for the outside world, and not being able to gain comfort from being with people. The audience sits there in dread knowing the showcase that Josh is pinning all his hopes on won't be the freedom that means so much. Watching in June and still being stuck in lockdown myself the eventual cancellation of Josh's performance hit hard, especially given I have had exactly the same horrible sinking feeling. The show finishes with a beautifully choreographed, dream-like performance of the dance he had been rehearsing in the Oxford Playhouse. Max Penrose's choreography, finally set free from the bedroom space, says so much without a single word, providing the saudade climax. The feeling of longing for those venues that so many of us miss was palpable and it's a great show to lead into the opening of many venues over the summer and the hopeful return of student theatre to the Oxford stages.
The engagement the marketing material created was great, Virag Zengo and her team created a steady flow of posts that built towards the show, maintaining interesting content under a cohesive tone. The graphic design, by Peter Todd, was simple and striking and meant that I instantly knew what show any of their posts was from. The inclusion of three BTS videos made me more personally invested in seeing what the final product would be and getting to hear about how the team overcame so many hurdles made it all the more interesting. Having this alongside all the usual profile pictures, cast/crew introductions really helped give the show a personality. It showed that not only was the struggle of performance true for the character within the show but also for those creating it.
Will Harmer's composition drove the emotions of the piece home, surfacing during Josh's moments of introspection. These moments wove the music in with its longing piano score ebbing and flowing with intensity to match the pacing of the story. It all comes together, pairing with the final dance elegantly to give a weight, built up from earlier, and heart to the character during the climax. The usual virtual show struggle of echoed voices in bedrooms appeared, but with the vlog style it felt fitting and helped to give a sense of presence to the characters. The sound design was subtle and naturalistic, playing into the confined normality of the setting. A ticking clock over the final monologue leading into the dream sequence showed the steady, endless progression of time stuck in isolation.
Visually the use of lighting by Samuel Morley helped create a flow of time with clear day and night scenes showing the progression of time. Naturalistic settings were created that made the character feel real and relatable. Daylight streaming through the window, the warm glow of a desk lamp in evening shots, and the sharp light from a screen - all light that we have become much more familiar with while locked up ourselves, now reflected on screen. This contrasts with the highly stylised dance sequence at the end that had a blue lit back wall and side lighting to create a dramatic look that heightened the movement seen on stage. This open tungsten light from the side unfortunately was not taken into account by the camera, giving Josh a very orange hue due to the white balance setting. The overall look of this scene helped create that dream-like state and helped accentuate the infrastructure of the theatre at the same time as the dancer which gave a sense that it wasn't just dance that Josh was longing for but the space to perform in too.
The set and costume design by Chuanqi Wang and Natasha Squire respectively also helped show the progression of time while also mirroring the emotional state of Josh. The costumes slowly became less and less colourful as well as a final shift after the cancellation of his performance where a jumper was added, shielding Josh from the outside world even more than before. The dream sequence at the end has him dressed all in grey which gives a stark contrast to the lit backdrop and an implication that while he is free on stage with his dance at his core he is still lost and yearning for that hope he had with the brighter colours. The set dressing also mirrored Josh's internal state. As he starts vlogging, his room is tidied, mirroring the grounding that doing these vlogs give him. This tidy setting is maintained until the bad news at which moment the mess again starts to build starting from small things like an unmade bed to more and more mess strewn about the floor as the frustration and loss builds.
One of my favourite moments during the show was the flawless match cut halfway through the film - a testament to the great work between the director of photography Michael-Akolade Ayodeji and editor Fred Seddon. Josh is practicing his dancing in his room but gets so lost in what he's doing that the audience flashes to a moment of him in black and white in the theatre. The cut perfectly matches Josh's position and movement and was extremely satisfying and impressive while also giving so much more meaning to how much the character loves what they are doing. The difficult task of showing video calls on screen was handled well using different layouts to shift the dynamic between the characters. Some edits did feel like there were frames missing between them, with flashes of black appearing between some cuts. Overall the two styles of jump cut, vlog style edits and the more cinematic longer takes with inserts contrasted well and the moments where the line was blurred between the two created an interesting play between the styles. While restricted to static shots within the bedroom, the choices of positions still helped to tell the story. The lower angle the dance practice was filmed from gives Josh a sense of confidence and power in these moments and the final monologue being filmed looking down takes this away. The final dance sequence in the theatre was filmed with a low shutter speed, blurring the movement of the dance and helping to create the surreal dream-like state. This scene is also the only one with camera movement which separates it drastically from the rest of the film and gives energy to the emotion behind the dance and the handheld nature of these tracking shots adds to the sense of a fragile and faltering dream.
'Lost Connections' is a story that so many of us can relate to; of loss, hope, and frustration. The emotional score and choreography hit home by creating a show that clearly comes from a place of personal experience. Behind the scenes, the story of this show's perseverance only adds to the production's impact and the final product is powerful proof of their endurance. The entire team has created something that leaves a much larger impact than the 30 min run time may suggest. A pull to those empty theatre seats. One that may only be satisfied when I can finally be a part of that audience hush as the house lights dim.
Written by - H. Dovell