Frangipane Productions, in what one hopes is the last throes of lockdown 2, has fastened on a deceptively simple love story by British playwright Phil Porter. The tale of two neighbours who become virtual (in both senses) acquaintances trickles out by means of alternating monologues directly to camera. The drama was filmed on stage, and directors Maggie Moriarty and Louis Cunningham have done a thoroughly professional job, demonstrating the technical leaps and bounds made in virtual drama since lockdown 1.
The hesitant Jonah (Gabe Winsor), formerly of a Christian community and now alone in London, earnestly desires to know daddy's girl Sophie (Pip Lang), equally on her own, and the handy method of communication happens to be a baby monitor. A suggestion of peep-show and surveillance is thus introduced, though the halting relationship that follows – rather than develops – moves in the sphere of mutual dependency and misunderstanding, not of control.
The vicissitudes of modern life soon intrude on any thought of idyll, notably in the shape of a heartless personnel officer (also Gabe Winsor) announcing Sophie's sacking from her job in startlingly inverted terms: 'I'm wondering if this might be good news I'm giving you', and passing off the news as 'a nudge from the Gods'. I was reminded of George Clooney as a professional 'downsizer' in Up in the Air, seeking to persuade his victims that he's not so much the Grim Reaper as a kindly bestower of opportunity.
The black-and-white camera work by Micheal-Akolade Ayodeji was a delight: fluid but not flashy, with interesting but not a surfeit of montage, and effective chiaroscuro. I was put in mind of the work of 40s and 50s cameramen like John Alton and James Wong Howe. I thought Niky Pasolini's original music subscribed rather too much to the tinkling piano formula without which no film containing even a sliver of romance seems to be complete. Yet in the harrowing accident scene, music and camera combined to create considerable tension.
Our two players were challenged to achieve a level of varied naturalism in the medium-shots and in the baleful gaze of the many close-ups. Jonah (Gabe Winsor), in knitted jumper, with tousled hair, open face and engaging smile, gave a thoughtful performance, if occasionally a trifle mannered in speech rhythm and in verbal phrasing around the scripted pauses. He saved his best for last, coming on with strong, repressed pain at the bitter-sweet end.
As for Pip Lang as Sophie, before the unforgiving close-up camera she displayed such a wide range of gesture and expression, always unforced and never seemingly premeditated. When her voice adopted the demotic high rising terminal, it was never over-used. Persuasive as a hospital consultant, combining the generic yet individual approach of the type towards the partner of a patient, she then produced a pitch-perfect German national accent. She was also able to deepen her voice to suggest heightened emotion. This was acting of a very sophisticated order.