Stay at Home festival review – Mark Gatiss's dystopia flashbacks kick off comedy series

<span>Photograph: Isabel Infantes/PA Archive/PA Images</span>
Photograph: Isabel Infantes/PA Archive/PA Images

Stay apart – and keep connecting,” is the mantra of Robin Ince’s new Stay at Home festival, a daily online broadcast to self-isolated comedy fans everywhere. Produced by the Cosmic Shambles Network, the show brings comedians, entertainers and scientists together (at a safe social distance), and hopes to raise donations for artists denied an income by the coronavirus outbreak. Its first episode proper, streamed this morning, is distinguished – as you’d expect from Ince – by recondite but infectiously enthusiastic chat, now and then interrupted by cookery and song. It’s not must-see viewing, but its good humour and jaundiced optimism are oddly rallying.

Hosted by Ince and Josie Long, broadcasting from their houses, its star guest is Mark Gatiss, for whom Ince has canvassed audience questions. By accident or Ince’s design, they prompt nerdy discussions (which would work equally well as audio) about horror movies, Peter Cushing’s memoirs, or this week’s auction of the estate of Sixties TV icon Peter Wyngarde. Of 1970s dystopian drama, Gatiss observes that “we’ve been workshopping this [ie the coronavirus response] for donkey’s years … All TV was dystopian in the 70s, even Nationwide.” But that doesn’t mean Brits are well placed to weather a catastrophe. Talk of our blitz spirit is “clearly not true”, says the Sherlock man: “We are just a pack of savages.”

Before it gets too bleak, cut to “anarcho-survivalist” chef George Egg (“Welcome to the restaurant at the end of the universe!”), dishing up a croque madame using a wallpaper stripper, a blow torch and a DVD case. Next up is protest singer Grace Petrie, whose vigorous numbers about relationship breakups and gender stereotyping close the show. To silence. “You realise how much you do this for the applause,” she postscripts, “when you find yourself playing to an empty room with just your dog staring at you …”

It may be a long time before any of us hear the sound of an appreciative crowd again – or experience the pleasure of being part of one. The Stay at Home festival is no substitute for that. But its indomitable spirit, and its faith in an enduring audience for arcane chat, should make the absence more bearable.


• The Stay at Home festival: details here.