Gather round, kids, it’s time for a history lesson… Once upon a time, if you were out and about and you witnessed behaviour that was annoying, weird or socially unacceptable, the only thing to do was make a mental note and then have a bit of a rant about it to your family, friends and colleagues when you arrived at your destination. But those days are gone; now we have the wonderful world of social media, and with it the ability to instantly and publicly shame anyone we judge not to be living up to our own expected standards of behaviour. And sometimes, that harmless tweet or jokey Facebook post captures the public’s imagination and takes on a life of its own – but at what point does calling people out for what we deem bad behaviour stop being just a bit of fun?
In Chris McCurry and Ryan Whittle’s What Happens Next Will __ Your __, freelance journalist Alex (Whittle) finds himself trapped on a roof with Darren (McCurry), an overly chatty security guard with some highly questionable views on a number of issues. Frustrated and incredulous, Alex does what – let’s be honest – a lot of us would consider doing, and starts live tweeting their conversation to his substantial online following, who respond instantly and with great enthusiasm. And what happens next… well, you get the idea.
What begins as a funny story of an awkward encounter quickly ventures into some uncomfortable territory, as the replies to Alex’s tweets begin to flash up on the TV screen in the corner of the stage. First there’s delight, then outrage, and finally blind hatred and even death threats directed at a stranger none of them have ever met. Even after Alex starts actually listening to what Darren’s really trying to say and stops firing off sarcastic tweets, it’s too late; he’s already started something he can’t stop. Not only that, he’s beginning to realise that the people who follow him so voraciously may not actually be all that different from those he exposes – and that he might not be such a great guy himself, either.
Like any good clickbait video on the internet, you can guess at least part of where the story’s headed – and yet it’s impossible to look away as the inevitable car crash moment approaches. This, when it arrives, is set up so well that somehow it still manages to feel like a shock twist, and the impact is painfully, cringingly horrific to watch. Chris McCurry and Ryan Whittle are an excellent double act, nailing the comedy in the script with such expert precision that it takes a while to realise that our sympathy has begun to shift from one character to the other, or that for the first half of the play we’ve been guilty of making the exact same snap judgments as Alex. Not a second of the 50-minute play is wasted; even the awkward silences between the two men are loaded with meaning, and in many ways we learn more about who each of them really is from what they don’t say than from their actual conversation.
What Happens Next Will __ Your __ is an excellent piece of new writing and a strong debut production from My Mate Monster. Relatable and entertaining, it also challenges the audience to examine our own behaviour online and its potential consequences. More than that, though, it reminds us to be kind – both on and off the internet – and take a moment before passing judgment on people we’ve never met. In a world that feels increasingly hostile, that’s a reminder we can’t hear often enough.
The final performance of What Happens Next Will __ Your __ is tonight (24th August) at the White Bear Theatre – do grab a ticket if you can.