Caro Meets Theatre Interview

Rohan Candappa: London Calling

By | Published on Friday 4 September 2020

Regular readers might possibly remember a few weeks back we recommended, via our Three To Stream tips, that you take in some of the filmed theatrical pieces created by Rohan Candappa via his COVID-19 inspired project, the Lockdown Theatre Company.

This week, the final video in the series will be made available. ‘London Calling’ – featuring a performance by Guy Hughes (pictured) – is set during the Blitz and is released to coincide with its eightieth anniversary. I spoke to Rohan to find out more about ‘London Calling’ as well as the Lockdown Theatre Company project as a whole.

CM: Can you start by telling us a bit about ‘London Calling’, what can audiences expect in terms of content and themes?
RC: ‘London Calling’ is a short film that draws parallels between the Blitz that London survived in 1940, and the COVID Crisis it lived through in 2020. It was sparked by a news report that more people died from COVID in London during one four week period than died during the four week period when the Blitz was at its most deadly.

CM: Who has been involved in creating it? 
RC: Three people were involved. I wrote, directed and produced the film. It features a powerful performance from Guy Hughes. And there’s an unknown lyric, written during the Blitz in 1940 by an ARP warden called Ronald Fuller, that Guy has beautifully set to music in 2020.

CM: What inspired you to create a piece on this particular topic? 
RC: Being a Londoner, born and bred, was an inspiration. Also I wanted some of the films we made to reflect on what we were living through during the pandemic, but to come at the subject from an angle that made people think again. We’ve all been overloaded with information about the crisis, but maybe to discern meaning we need to look at things afresh.

CM: This piece is the culmination of a project that’s been taking place throughout the lockdown. Can you tell us what inspired you to create the Lockdown Theatre Company and what its aims have been? 
RC: It was a way to create work for actors when the theatres closed. The idea was to use money I’d saved to go to the Edinburgh Fringe to pay actors £200 a shot to self tape monologues. I didn’t really know what I was doing, but I knew I wanted to do something to support people who were facing a financial cliff edge.

CM: Can you tell us about some of the episodes that are already online? Do you have any favourites? 
RC: I’m biased, but I think all 20 films are great, with 20 outstanding performances. But to give you an idea of the range of work produced I’d suggest ‘Solitary’, which is about a Geordie baby waiting to be born; ‘Hill 235’, which is about the British Army in the Korean War; ‘Mavis From Moira…’, which is a musical about musicals; and ‘Choices’, in which a doctor reflects on what she lived through working in a hospital during the pandemic.

CM: How did you go about finding people to get involved with the project? 
RC: There were a few actors I knew and wanted to work with. But the majority were people who responded to a Facebook post that launched the madness. So a lot of the actors I’ve never even met, and all the work was done virtually via screens and phone calls.

CM: How successful do you think the online medium has proved to be? 
RC: I can’t give you an objective answer on this. On lots of levels it has worked, but it’s not the same as sitting in a theatre with an audience, watching a live performance. However it does open up new possibilities, which may or may not be explored once things return to ‘normal’.

CM: Interesting. Lots of companies have been producing theatrical endeavours during lockdown, in various different and innovative ways. Do you think there might be a future for the online delivery of theatrical projects, even post-COVID? Might they co-exist with live performance? 
RC: Yes, there’s definitely a future for doing theatre online. But I think we need to be bold and re-imagine what can be done. For me the most important aspect of creating and presenting stuff online is that work can be created, and is accessible, wherever you are in the country. That should be a game-changer.

CM: On a personal level, how has the lockdown been for you? Have you managed to stay busy?
RC: For me lockdown has been an incredibly creative time. I’ve produced 20 films in sixteen weeks. Worked with, and paid, 20 actors. And ended up with four hours of film – that’s two movies. More than that I’ve found a way of working that’s cheap, fast and versatile. That makes things possible. But I am a bit knackered now.

CM: What level of impact has it had on your career? What hopes do you have for the coming months and years? 
RC: No idea what impact it will have on my career. Not entirely sure I had a career before. But if people see the work, and like the work, I guess opportunities might arise. Actually, if there’s anyone out there who needs something written I could really do with a paying job…

CM: The industry has clearly taken a big hit: to what degree do you think it can recover?
RC: I don’t know the answer. I don’t think anyone does. It will recover, but a lot of damage has been done, and there’s probably still a lot of damage waiting to be done. So first it’s about survival, then it’s about revival. After that, I don’t just think we should rebuild, we also need to re-imagine. And that’s going to be okay. Because imagination is one thing theatre has never lacked.

‘London Calling’ is released online on 7 Sep via YouTube. See it, and previously released Lockdown Theatre Company pieces, on the company YouTube channel here.