Isobel Maxwell for Lagging

Lagging is a satirical comedy that successfully mocks the current state of online Cambridge theatre, and university in general, while also managing to walk the fine line between relatable humour and too-close-to-home cringe. Written and directed by Molly Taylor, she plays herself as she attempts to stage a play within the tight confines of a Zoom call and a laptop webcam. Perhaps due to the 40-minute time limit (the show budget could not stretch for Zoom pro), the play is broken into 20-minute episodes on YouTube that were released weekly last month. The story loosely follows the cast and crew of 5 Lesbians Eating Quiche as they attempt to reorganise the play to suit an online format with no budget, props, or stash. Thankfully, the audience are only voyeurs throughout the warm-ups, production meetings, and stage-safety sessions. Despite her frustration in Lagging rehearsals, Gaia will be pleased to know that ′The’ Varsity have bothered to review the play after all.

Having spent the day sitting through many of my own lagging, awkward Zoom calls, I was somewhat hesitant at the idea of watching a performance that was essentially a two-hour Zoom meeting. However, Lagging is the most enjoyable and entertaining Zoom call I have ever had to participate in. Perhaps knowing I thankfully don’t have to interject in the conversation and instead can watch the train-crash from a distance is what makes all the difference. Not having to hide my laughter behind well-placed hands when things inevitably go wrong is another benefit of simply watching a disastrous Zoom call unfold. Since everyone’s lives have been reduced to the online for months now, I thought Lagging would be another poor attempt to satirise the uncomfortable reality of day-to-day drudgery. And, while the play-within-a-play storyline is centuries old at this point, bringing the tired genre into the world of the pandemic was a new twist on an old story. I believe the success of Lagging’s format can be attributed to the excellent writing of Taylor and her co-writers, who, rather than resisting the awkwardness of the Zoom call, simply chose to revel in it.

“Rather than resisting the awkwardness of a Zoom-call, Taylor and her co-writers chose to revel in it.”

The actors’ performances were eerily convincing, to the point where the second-hand embarrassment and awkwardness were genuine. It really does feel as though someone forgot to lock the call, and you’ve joined to watch the latest drama and angst of the Cambridge theatre scene playing out from bedrooms all across the country. The cast (of both Lagging and 5 Lesbians Eating a Quiche) begin as casual acquaintances, navigating the oddities of introductions without ever meeting each other in person. Lagging’s depiction of the strange reality of modern friendships and relationships was well executed and rang weirdly accurate, especially true for many freshers.

Episode 2 introduced the ridiculousness of the ‘wellness catch-ups’ led by producer and co-writer James Macnab, severely under-trained for this field. Without reading into it too much, Lagging’s commentary on the current mental health crisis and the university’s superficial solutions was on-point.

“I can’t think of a play that is more ‘of its time’ than Lagging.”

By the end of the play, news of the possible freedom that June 21st might bring has broken. Everyone’s renewed positivity in the final episode is almost immediately crushed by the announcement that the ADC is not endorsing 5 Lesbians Eating a Quiche, and the play has been double-cancelled. The brief respite of hope immediately being crushed by yet more bad news was, unfortunately, poignant and captured the current political landscape very well.

Although the cast and crew were many hundreds of miles apart, the show was very well put together. Despite the best efforts of Lauren Carey, the lighting was, of course, ruined due to the fickle nature of the English sun. Whether intended or not, the occasionally glitching sound and picture worked well to create the lagging Zoom call’s infuriating atmosphere, designed by Kit Treadwell and Louis Davies. The ‘Lesbian Sea-Shanty’ closing music, written by Claire Lee Shenfield, is one of those unnecessary yet fantastic details that brought the show together.


Mountain View

A Blown Job is a joy to watch

I can’t think of a play that is more ‘of its time’ than Lagging, which is not a criticism of its writing. Clearly, it was not written with longevity in mind, but rather Lagging is a reflective expression of the frustration I think that everyone is feeling. Lagging makes no pretence that this show will be anything like an actual staged production, nor does it attempt to ‘make the best of a bad situation’ by creating an inferior shadowed version of a real show. Instead, Lagging embraces the shortcomings of today’s reality in combination with an ancient genre and delivers a unique performance. When I say it is ‘of its time’, I mean that I appreciate the efforts of shows like Lagging, but know that they too yearn for when these online plays are a thing of the past.