Crouch End writer on 'Love in The Lockdown'

Alec Newman and Rachael Stirling in Clare Norburn's Love in Lockdown

Alec Newman and Rachael Stirling in Clare Norburn's Love in Lockdown - Credit: Robert Piwko

Crouch End playwright and musician Clare Norburn had just started a new relationship when the pandemic began.

And when lockdown hit, she was unable to see her boyfriend for nearly two months.

"It was incredibly sad and frustrating," she says. "I met a new boyfriend at New Year and less than three months in, the lockdown happened and I didn't see him for eight weeks. We spoke every day but I cried when I couldn't seem him, not knowing when I would see him again. You weren't allowed then to bubble with another household, and watching those press conferences I'd think 'what about people in relationships who don't live in the same household but want to see and touch each other?'"

Soprano and playwright Clare Norburn has written a concert/play Love in Lockdown

Soprano and playwright Clare Norburn has written a concert/play Love in Lockdown based on her direct personal experience - Credit: Robert Piwko

When Professor Neil Ferguson was caught breaking lockdown to visit his girlfriend she was "furious".

"There we were, obeying the rules and the very person who set those rules had not obeyed them."

Norburn has poured her direct experience into an online musical drama: Love in The Lockdown starring top actors Rachael Stirling and Alec Newman. The Ferguson incident is included as Newman's character Giovanni tells Stirling's Emilia "maybe I should just come over and see you?".

Directed by Musketeers and Lewis director Nicholas Renton, the nine episodes air a year on from when they are set with the first dropping on March 4 and the last on May 23.

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"It's about the early stages of a relationship. We see them first five days after they meet when people are talking about the virus. Everything we see is through the computer, except for May 13, the first time you could go for a walk with someone from another household."

As director of early music group The Telling and the writer of several 'play/concerts,' Norburn has embedded music via a storyline about 14th century Boccaccio's Decameron.

"Maverick, quick witted" Emilia is a medieval musician who meets "febrile, quixotic, nervous" playwright Giovanni at a Hampstead dinner party in February 2020. As their intense romance blossoms, so does their musical adaption of the Decameron.

"It becomes their lockdown project just as writing this was mine," says Norburn. "The Decameron is about 10 young people who flee Florence to escape the black death and keep themselves entertained through the dark plague year with 100 stories and songs. Read the prologue and block out the details, and it's pretty much 2020. Despite the wonders of medical science we were as powerless as they were in 1348, and the reactions are the same. The disparity between the rich who escaped the cities and poor who couldn't, the virus 'from the East,'  the deniers who threw  parties and said 'it's not going to happen to us'. Nothing is reinvented."

And with Emilia forced to stack shelves to pay her rent Norburn adds that the "light comedy has serious points, political points as Emilia and Giovanni think about what matters to them and have a new sense of purpose about what their art should be."

Alec Newman as Giovanni and Rachael Stirling as Emilia in Love in Lockdown

Alec Newman as Giovanni and Rachael Stirling as Emilia in Love in Lockdown - Credit: Robert Piwko

Stirling comments: “Clare’s beautiful piece dramatises a lockdown experience of a live musician with the generous, funny and painful insight of her first-hand experience. She has written a drama for every creative who was told to retrain.”

It was a logistical challenge to interweave the Zoom dates with self-filmed footage and musical sections performed by The Telling, alongside news announcements and even a 'Boris Johnson'  clip voiced by Hampstead comic Jon Culshaw.

"It takes online drama to its extreme. We had to find clever ways of putting the music track in. We recorded on iphones which actually have good sound quality. One couple was able to film together and another was a singer and harpist who could accompany herself, but it's been a challenge to edit, and in this weird world the sound editor becomes the conductor and the actual conductor is powerless."

And the soprano, who is artistic director of the Stroud Green Festival, admits: "the music doesn't work as well and it's not as rewarding as performing live".

As for Norburn her relationship survived lockdown. "It's very strong and happy in some ways being separated made us stronger. That's not exactly how Giovanni and Emilia work out, but you will have to watch it."

Love in The Lockdown is free to view from

Watch the trailer at