Distance Remaining – Dumfries & Galloway Arts Festival

Written by Stewart Melton

Directed By Caitlin Skinner

Rating: 3 out of 5.

A woman living in the past, another desperate to break away from her present and a young man unsure of his future; Stewart Melton and Caitlin Skinner’s Distance Remaining follows the journeys of these three people as their tribulations and experiences test them in their endeavours to secure something, anything in this mad world, and ultimately reflects on what is quintessentially valuable at this moment. 

This past year has found millions detached from the people, places and themselves in how we work, live and survive. Helen Milne Productions presents a harrowing, and at times difficult, blend of stage and screen with a distinct vein of homage to previous digital Scenes of Survival. Not without a richness in humour and humanity, Melton’s script has lashings of jokes layered amongst the wordplay, but as the production shifts more into the cinematic format, an inbalance of structure shifts the dynamic.

Opening with a distinctly poetic piece entitled Rug Rat, the camera contorts and focuses on the minuscule locations of the stage audiences are usually unable to see. Here, Donna struggles to regain her footing after falling, desperately reaching for the phone as her grandson attempts to reach out to her as he leaves prison. Dolina MacLennan’s capacity to channel an adequate amount of humour without turning the script into a comedy makes for an immediate appeal to the show. It serves as a stoic wake-up slat to maintain connections with friends, family and those in the community who may not have the luxury of company.

But often, doing your bit for the community doesn’t have the most selfless of intentions, and at the very least, a desire for purpose is a lighting fire. With furlough leaving thousands with a dangling concern of money over their heads, turning to charity was both an option to give back and protect the vulnerable as well as a way to maintain sanity and a connection with others. For Lindsay, it was an escape from the brutality of what was about to befall her – and it also made for one hell of an insta-story, well, she had hoped it would.

The open admittance of infusing film and theatre, utilising digital projection and traditional staging, offers a more engaging (if potentially distracting) presence at moments. This enhances the intimacy of the initial scenes, the camera allowing the perceived vulnerability as MacLennan crawls across the floor in desperation, and yet it equally accentuates the comedy value in moments. Particularly with Karen Dunbar, where there are moments of fourth-wall-breaking revealing the stationary car and screens. But ultimately, regardless of splendid performances, we don’t know enough about these people to maintain interest or empathy.

Carried throughout by Louise McCraw’s electronic score, the sequences flow with relative ease, though more could be utilised with editing, as an evident skill with transitional shots and cuts is apparent in the film’s conclusion as the character narratives somewhat align. But a question of “why now?” comes into mind as time passes, with stories that are still being told.

The production’s most existential story featuring Reuben Joseph closes off the feature with a complete circle. A young man, anxious about the prospects of his future and current relationship, struggles to cope, and it all comes pouring out after the dog decides to take their trip to the beach as an escape attempt. The most cinematic, the evolution from a top-down theatre set to a short film aesthetic shows an evolution of storytelling. The cinematography amplifies this with playful imagery as Joseph increases the frantic nature of finding the dog, hallucinating, and boiling over with emotion.

Emotions aplenty, the structure follows in dipping and diving into frantic motions of pathos. Particularly with the final sequence, where the writing runs out of steam a little, and the inconsistency from the well-written and directed opening may flow more into the cinematic but becomes a mild slog by the time the production closes. Individually the sequences encapsulate the resilience we have found within ourselves of late and communicates isolation and hope with superb performances meriting praise.

Information regarding upcomming performances and screenings can be found here.

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