The poster for Emilia Morgan's Fringe offering Practice Room 99Instagram/@harriet_bradnock

Like everything else that reopened in July 2021, for live theatre, caution has been the byword. At the Edinburgh Fringe, theatre performed in front of an audience has returned alongside the lockdown friendly recorded version. The uneasy coexistence of each format has made their stark contrast more pronounced. It is in this transitory moment – one that we’ll likely never see again – that Practice Room 99, Emilia Morgan’s new play ought to be situated.

Over the month of August, Practice Room 99 is available to watch on the Edinburgh Fringe Online Platform. The plot goes something like this: a cast of (variously hungover) musicians pick themselves up after a hectic night, while navigating a vengeful stage manager and a demanding soloist. With its small cast, a plain set and short run time the cast and crew should be proud that the play felt busy, alive, and entertaining.

“It is in this transitory moment that Practice Room 99, Emilia Morgan’s new play ought to be situated”

One might have anticipated the pandemic to offer a period of creative dehydration to writers. Like magpies, many steal small details from the everyday to provide texture to characters and plot. Not so for Emilia Morgan who draws on her experience growing up around musicians and rehearsals. Indeed, the play looks to the future in this regard, when musicians might be able to share in the anxious excitement of the last-minute rehearsal without Covid stipulations. There is an irony then in the absence of an audience – I felt like I was peering behind the scenes at something genuine. In both the experience the play draws upon and its inadvertent naturalism there is a well-worn authenticity about Practice Room 99.

The writing of Practice Room 99 is its secret weapon. Across the board scenes blur well and details like the engaging premise, the slow reveal of a character’s unfortunate nickname and the costume one character has to wear, add flair. The play was funny with well delivered lines like Joy Adeogun‘s, ‘I’ll introduce you to my friends P and 45’. Overall, it proved an effective half hour.

The cast of Practice Room 99 rehearsing over zoomInstagram/practice_room_99

That said there was a parochial quality to the play. Characters lacked depth or pathos and their relationships were shallow despite the misadventures they’ve shared. There were also some structural issues – the use of fade to black becoming repetitive towards the end and the climax was undercooked, ending abruptly without a clear resolution. Yet the cast were clearly enjoying themselves, which carried a momentum overriding these flaws.

It is worth addressing the elephant in the room (or not in the room): What would a live audience have brought to Practice Room 99? At a basic level an audience probably would have obscured some of the surface level cracks in the play. Funny lines would have met with laughter rather than awkward silence and the slightly clunky dialogue given a more fluid tempo. More importantly perhaps was the lack of stakes – a recording can be restarted – which would empower any performance. Practice Room 99 was lively but not electric. For a play meant to entertain the lack of an audience seemed a self-evident disability.

“Live theatre is consumed instantly, with the audience and cast sharing the moment together”

At the end of the day though, with the access benefits this format allows, is this another innovation in our culture brought forward by the pandemic? That Practice Room 99 has arrived at this transitional moment makes this a worthy question. Theatre – live theatre – is a unique form of art. All art is consumed in different ways; live theatre is consumed instantly, with the audience and cast sharing the moment together. This is a special quality, one that shouldn’t be overestimated. The collective consumption gives theatre its sublime quality – raising the hair on your neck and transporting you into a conjured world. A recorded performance, at one static angle, cannot do this.


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Great theatre has a resonance to it, exaggerated by the shared space and the sense of collective viewing. This has been lost in the pandemic where adaptation is the name of the game. An audience-less theatre also guts the culture of theatre – Practice Room 99 ought to be watched by curious Fringe visitors rounded up along the Royal Mile. What you gain in access is lost in the spontaneity of the discovery.

Perhaps these are abstract musings. At the end of the day Practice Room 99 was an entertaining half hour that you can watch right now and maybe that’s enough. But was it brilliant theatre – could it have been brilliant theatre - without being live? Like the characters in Practice Room 99, I’m waiting for an audience.