A LOT of “internet theatre” simply reminds us how much we miss the playhouses. However, live online show Zoo Motel is a stunning advert for digital drama.

Is “internet theatre” really a thing? It’s a question that has been posed ever-more assertively by the pandemic.

As a theatre critic, I believe that theatre is defined, firstly, by its liveness and, secondly, by the presence of the performer and the audience in the same physical location. One of the many cruelties of the Covid crisis is that it has prevented us from being together in theatres.

Inevitably, and quite reasonably, theatre artists have piled into the lifeboat provided by online drama. However, with the best will in the world, it has to be said that much of the internet work they have created has been little more than low-budget films of what would, otherwise, have been stage productions.

More often than not, such offerings have served as a brave-but-dispiriting reminder of how desperately we need to get back to the live theatre experience (as and when the public health emergency allows, of course).

Having said this, it is important to note that, long before the pandemic, inventive artists were experimenting with the possibilities of making forms of live drama online. In 2014, for instance, Scotland’s own Stewart Laing created a live, online work in tandem with his revival of Pamela Carter’s play Slope.

Broadcast live over the internet during stage performances, the online Slope was a brilliant and distinctive art work, cleverly tailored to the possibilities of global streaming.

It was inevitable that the coronavirus catastrophe would lead to some productions of similarly ingenious online drama. Zoo Motel, which is streamed live from the Colombian studio of American theatre master Thaddeus Phillips, is such a show.

As soon as one has secured a ticket for the production, the Zoo Motel production team sends you some essential props (including your room key and the motel’s evacuation map) to print off. With these and, crucially, a set of regular playing cards in hand, you are ready to enter Phillips’s glorious parallel universe.

Clearly responding to the isolating experience of the pandemic, the show casts each audience member (or “bubbled” group of audience members) as patrons of the eponymous, and decidedly surreal, roadside hotel. Phillips plays the lone character of the piece.

When we first encounter him, he is, quite reasonably, freaked out to find that the only door to and from his room has disappeared. Thankfully, he is able to communicate with us via the motel’s video phone communication system.

So it is that we, the audience, like a 21st-century Alice in Wonderland, follow Phillips down his digital rabbit hole. We soon find ourselves in an ever-changing, kaleidoscopic, yet, paradoxically, analogue world.

Phillips’s conjures up this curious domain by means of tactile props, handmade sets, puppets, 3D paintings (which are reminiscent of beautiful pop-up books) and a delightfully clever use of music and sound. The work’s charming visual aesthetics are the perfect means for evoking the quintessentially human strangeness of such fascinating oddities as the famous Mojave phone booth (which, located in the California desert, regularly connects complete strangers).

As accomplished technically as it is in imaginative terms, Phillips’s piece provides abundant evidence that the internet is entirely amenable to the skills of resourceful theatre-makers. The show is full of superb optical illusions and creative sleights of hand, but it is never more enthralling than in its fabulous card trick.

Employing the theatrical concept of the ghost light (the single light that illuminates a darkened stage) as a humanistic metaphor in our dark times, the stage magician catches our breath as surely as he captures our imagination.

Zoo Motel is performed on various dates until January 30.

For tickets and further information, visit zoomotel.org.