The Third Day is perhaps the strangest show on television. Written by Utopia’s creator, Dennis Kelly, its three initial episodes – aired under the title Summer – have seen a grieving dad, Sam (Jude Law), absconding to the windswept British rural idyll of Osea island, initially under the guise of bringing a suicidal young woman home, before he finds himself trapped in what seems to be a setup from The Wicker Man, hallucinating locust infestations, seeing visions of his departed son and partaking in bloody pagan rituals. On Osea, the sun-dappled landscape is a hell of bereavement.
If that all sounds too confusing to follow, it is because plot is more of a secondary concern to the makers of The Third Day. Instead, the hour-long shows serve as a conduit for “atmosphere”, like throat-tickling dry ice clouding a sticky dancefloor. And, in the interests of whipping up maximum atmosphere, on Saturday – the third day of October – a 12-hour, live, multihyphenate experience served as the middle point of the series, before its final dose of episodes continues the following week.
The Third Day: Autumn is one-take, one-camera, livestreamed immersive theatre. An “event”, not a show, “where the line between what is real and what is not will be increasingly blurred”, apparently. With award-winning theatre producers Punchdrunk at the helm, though, and featuring the cast of Law, Katherine Waterston – and a special appearance from singer Florence Welch – the results could be promising. This may be the maximum atmosphere we need to awaken us from the midst of another lockdown Saturday spent staring at the walls and scrolling through the news feed.
The live stream begins at 9.30am, where I am sitting with a bowl of Weetabix, joining the 1,700 other people on Sky’s Facebook page waiting for it to begin. “Debbie” asks: “What’s this then?” A meandering, meditatively slow, tracking shot across the Osea causeway marks the backdrop for onscreen text explaining that this time of year is the island’s Esus and the Sea festival, where children undergo pagan rites to adulthood, as well as the occasional selection of a new adult leader who must undergo a challenging ordeal to prove themselves. I hope Jude’s had his Weetabix, too.
So far so slow TV – for the first two hours we follow the camera as it trundles through overcast, rain-spattered steady-cam shots along the island, making for a moody screensaver backdrop, while the sound design perfectly sets a disconcerting tone of suspense with its continuous ambient drone and smatterings of dialogue kept barely audible.
What begins as an exercise in patience morphs into truly beautiful television, though – a moving still life that questions our very need for plot and easily digestible entertainment. Characters slowly enter the frame, and we meander with them as they go about setting up the island for the festival, stuffing scarecrows with hay and building fires. A sense of unease slowly grows.