Theatre Review: GOING THE DISTANCE – [DIGITAL PRODUCTION]

Comical, entertaining, and heart-warming, GOING THE DISTANCE shines a light on local community theatre and the people behind it.

4 out of 5 stars

Hot on the heels of the huge success of previous digital productions WHAT A CARVE UP! and THE PICTURE OF DORIAN GRAY, Henry Filloux-Bennett and Yasmeen Khan’s delightful new comedy GOING THE DISTANCE shines a light on local community theatre and the people behind it.

Set in March 2020 at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, GOING THE DISTANCE follows the creative team at Matchborough Community Theatre as they fight to save their local venue from permanent closure.

When treasurer Maggie suggests putting on a fundraising production, inspired by (but for rights purposes, not based on) THE WIZARD OF OZ, the team set out to write, cast and rehearse the magical show. But as funds start to dwindle and the uncertainty surrounding lockdown continues, can the little theatre plough on with the ill-fated project and innumerable barriers?

Best described as NOISES OFF meets NIGHTY-NIGHTY, GOING THE DISTANCE is a comical, entertaining and heart-warming look at the plight of local theatres during the pandemic. Writers Filloux-Bennett and Khan embed a strong sense of community into the narrative, striking a balance between humour and depth perfectly, and their well-developed characters.

Clocking in at just over an hour, GOING THE DISTANCE builds on the success of previous digital productions with its high production values and excellent camera work. Felicity Montagu impresses in her directorial debut, pushing the narrative along with straightforward clarity and a watchable and lilting pace.

The talented cast does most of the heavy lifting here, with Stephen Fry as the Narrator helping to push the story along with his witty commentary, which pokes fun at our less-than-efficient Covid-tackling government.

The best of the comedy comes from Sarah Hadland as hardnosed marketing expert Rae, her biting one-liners, excellent comic timing and hilarious facial expressions making her captivating to watch.

Elsewhere, Matthew Kelly and Shobna Gulati bring familiarity as the curmudgeonly director and his estranged wife, while Nicole Evans’ is excellent as local celebrity Billie, the character we all love to hate.

The emotional heart of the piece lies with Merch Husey as the vulnerable and touching Kem, and Emma McDonald as his love interest Gail, who takes the audience on a journey of self-discovery and growth with her heartfelt rendition of SOMEWHERE OVER THE RAINBOW.

Penny Ryder as loveable yet forgetful Maggie also shines, her many poignant moments showing just how important theatre is to everyone, particularly the people involved in it.

While some of the humour is a little corny at times, the laughs don’t detract from the script’s thought-provoking poignancy. This is a story that celebrates theatre and showcases the power of community in the face of adversity.
A perfect way to celebrate the resilience of our incredible industry over the last year.

GOING THE DISTANCE is available on-demand until 17 October 2021. Tickets are £15, which will include both a link to the production and a digital programme.