AS arts lovers will recall all too painfully, despite the Scottish Government’s slight relaxation of Covid-19 restrictions in the summer of last year, Edinburgh’s August festivals had to be cancelled for the first time in their 73-year history. One little glimmer of light was Doppler, an outdoor, physically distanced work of live drama, which Grid Iron, Scotland’s leading site-specific theatre company, planned to stage in the month of August.

Based upon the popular satirical novel by Norwegian writer Erlend Loe, the show would take a small audience into the forest to follow the travails of its titular protagonist. We would see Doppler (to be played by the ever-excellent Keith Fleming) suffer a bicycle accident and transform from the quintessential “man who has everything” (nice family, good job, excellent work-life balance) into a raging misanthrope who takes to living in a tent in the Norwegian woods.

The show would have been, in terms of the social isolation of its central character, the perfect piece of pandemic theatre. People would have applauded Grid Iron’s knack for finding the ideal story for the public health crisis; even though, in reality, Doppler had been some years in the planning, and was not, in fact, a direct response to the global spread of the coronavirus.

An exciting prospect though it was, director Ben Harrison and his team knew that the show’s August performances were far from a foregone conclusion. Not only were they working in the unpredictable conditions of the pandemic and under Scottish Government Covid directives, but there were also the more workaday concerns of the Scottish weather and the permissions for public performance on the chosen site.

As our national Bard had it: “The best laid schemes o’ Mice an’ Men Gang aft agley.” Despite hours of rehearsal, both in someone’s garden (with assiduous physical distancing, of course) and via Zoom, and a power of preparatory work by all sorts of people, including set and lighting designers, a puppet designer and an entire production team, the uncertainty over Covid protocols meant that the final permissions for performance couldn’t be arranged in time.

Consequently, there would be no Doppler. Not in August last year, at any rate.

Thankfully, however, as a longstanding producer of site-specific, often outdoor theatre, Grid Iron was acutely aware that it needed a contingency plan for this show. Plan B was a film based upon the efforts to stage Doppler as, possibly, the only live and present theatre event of the 2020 Edinburgh Festivals.

The result is this online documentary, Doppler: The Story So Far. At face value, the film looks like Scottish theatre’s answer to Lost In La Mancha, Keith Fulton and Louis Pepe’s 2002 documentary about Terry Gilliam’s ill-fated efforts to make a movie about Cervantes’s epic Don Quixote.

In fact, the Grid Iron film is a winning combination of excerpts from the show (filmed in Gifford Community Woodland in East Lothian) and reflections on the process of trying to make live theatre in the teeth of the pandemic.

The snippets of the show itself offer tantalising glimpses of the live production that will, as the company intends, come to full fruition as we emerge from the pestilence of Covid.

Fleming (who, replete with a wild man beard, is gloriously irascible as Doppler) is joined by fine actors Itxaso Moreno and Sean Hay, and composer and singer David A Pollock. Moreno and Hay bring to life a panoply of Loe’s characters, including Bongo (the calf of the female elk Doppler killed in a moment of ravenous desperation) and Dusseldorf (an eccentric Norwegian man who is disconcertingly proud of being the son of a member of the Wehrmacht).

The documentary element of the film includes fascinating insights into the process of theatre-making during the pandemic (including, bizarrely, the fact that the alcohol in hand sanitisers melts the materials used to make puppets). Director Harrison, producer Judith Doherty and members of the cast and production team talk interestingly about their motivations and determination to connect with their audience in whatever way possible.

Pollock speaks for many theatre lovers when he opines that filming theatre productions for online screening is merely a “stop gap” until performers and audience members can, once again, be together in the same physical space. Indeed, one of the great strengths of this film is that it sets Grid Iron’s tribulations with Doppler in a wider, documentary context, rather than merely being a semi-professional, low budget film of the show itself.

Great respect is due to the theatre-makers who have created all manner of online works in spite of the coronavirus. However, Grid Iron has made something even more worthwhile, namely, a eulogy to live theatre and a prayer for its rapid return.