Where and when: 5 – 23 November, Blue Elephant Theatre
What it’s all about… My best friend Meg actually lost it last week, to her boyfriend Amir. Apparently he lit candles. Magical, was the word she used.
Alice would give anything for something magical to happen to her. But she’s shy, has no idea how to contour and the last thing she loved was a roast potato.
She feels ordinary. Unremarkable. Unpopular.
Until Jamie from Maths messages her.
Finally, something is about to happen to Alice.
Something big. Something she won’t ever forget. Something she never expected.
And the whole school knows.
Easy is a powerful new play by Amy Blakelock, exploring what happens when we combine social media, love island ideals, Snapchat and teenage insecurity. An intimate portrait of adolescence today, Easy asks us – why is it so hard to believe we’re good enough as we are?
You’ll like it if… you remember the squeamish and agonising world of teenage love and sex, if you’ve ever sent nudes, if you’re a Snapchat fiend or if you’re a complete social media phobe, this one-woman show will explore how constant digital connectivity changes the landscape of teenage sexuality.
You should see it because… it’s a contemporary, fast-paced hour of love, sex, digital consent, and learning to demand respect for your own body.
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.
This week, a teenage girl in the States crashed her car whilst attempting the Bird Box Challenge, prompting the local police to issue a statement begging people not to drive whilst blindfolded. The seventeen-year-old probably thought she would post the video online and bask in the admiration of her followers. Instead, her (unquestionably foolish) actions have made her the target of ridicule and vitriol from total strangers across the globe, the vast majority questioning her right to drive, to reproduce, and even to exist.
I was reminded of this story whilst watching Rose Heiney’s Original Death Rabbit, directed by Hannah Joss, in which a young woman (Kimberley Nixon) inadvertently becomes an Internet meme – the Death Rabbit – after being photographed in the background of a child’s funeral procession wearing a pink bunny onesie. Seeking an escape from her own insecurities and the trauma of her father’s recently diagnosed schizophrenia, she throws herself headlong into the world of the Original Death Rabbit, eventually becoming so consumed by her online persona that she begins to lose any sense of her real identity. Now, on the eve of her 32nd birthday, she looks back over her decade of Internet “fame” and reflects on how it’s affected her life, relationships and mental health. More importantly, she sets out to do what the Internet so often fails to do – provide context to explain how she’s ended up where she is.
Kimberley Nixon gives an outstanding performance, commanding our attention and sympathy throughout as she engagingly delivers Rose Heiney’s insightful and witty script. For someone like the Original Death Rabbit, who’s always judged herself on how others perceive her (she was once wracked with guilt after being told by a friend that her favourite poet Philip Larkin was a racist and misogynist, and that by liking him she was aligning herself with his views) the Internet was always going to be a dangerous place, and her obsessive reaction to it is inevitable but also very relatable – whether or not we like to admit it. Anyone who’s ever been active on social media knows the little thrill of seeing a post liked or shared, and the sense of rejection – or worse – when something we’ve said or done online fails to land as we intended. The Original Death Rabbit’s need to be validated by the approval of strangers might be extreme, but it’s also very understandable.
But that’s not all we can relate to. The minute I walked in and saw Louie Whitemore’s set – a cluttered, neglected living room in which the only pristine items are the Richard Curtis movie posters adorning the walls – I had a feeling the play was going to be right up my street, and I wasn’t wrong. The Original Death Rabbit might be flawed but she’s not unlikeable, and our 90 minutes with her are easily as entertaining as they are disturbing. She has a passionate – bordering on aggressive – love for Richard Curtis movies, which gets some of the biggest laughs of the night, along with her sardonic impressions of her whiney younger sister and patronising leftie friend. And her story, though dark, is also enjoyably quirky (let’s be honest, anything involving a pink bunny suit would struggle to be too deadly serious).
Funny, sad, brilliantly performed and with a cautionary message that feels more necessary by the day, Original Death Rabbit kicks off Jermyn Street Theatre’s 25th anniversary year in triumphant style. Highly recommended.
Can’t see the map on iPhone? Try turning your phone to landscape and that should sort it. I don’t know why but I’m working on it… 😉
In June of this year, Instagram hit a new milestone: one billion active monthly users. Facebook, meanwhile, is still streets ahead with 2.23 billion people logging in every month. It’s becoming more and more difficult to remember (or for the younger generation, imagine) what life was like before the Internet – and particularly before we were able to take it with us wherever we go.
Obviously, it has its benefits; without the Internet I wouldn’t be here writing this review, for one thing. But there are growing and legitimate concerns about the amount of time we now spend in the digital world, being exposed to fake news and impossible ideals, and the risks this poses on both a global and a personal level.
Set in the 90s, Kevin Mandry’s Eros takes us back to the early days of the Internet, and into the studio of Ross Black (Stephen Riddle). A former glamour photographer, he’s fallen on hard times and now scrapes a living helping small businesses produce marketing brochures. He dreams of giving it all up and moving to Scotland, much to the horror of his assistant Terri (Felicity Jolly), for whom the studio is much more than just a job. And then his ex-lover Kate (Anna Tymoshenko) arrives out of the blue to remind Ross of his glory days – and not in a good way.
The first thing to say about Eros is that it doesn’t necessarily go where you think it’s going… but it’s also difficult to pinpoint exactly where it does end up. Touching on various extremely topical themes – consent and female agency, our obsession with untouchable perfection, the growing influence of technology – it doesn’t really focus on any of them in any depth, and despite some intriguing details and hints that there could be a big twist coming, the explosive revelation we’ve been waiting for never arrives. As such the production, directed by Stephen Bailey, becomes somewhat lacking in pace before concluding on a disappointingly lacklustre note.
On a more personal level, as a portrait of the relationships between three disillusioned characters whose lives haven’t gone the way they hoped, the play is more successful. Felicity Jolly’s Terri is by far the most likeable of the three; after escaping a troubled past, she’s found some kind of stability with Ross, who she clearly idolises as a father figure. She’s terrified of losing both her home and her new-found Internet connection, which has allowed her to make new friends all over the world through the miracle of chatrooms.
The majority of the stage time belongs to Anna Tymoshenko and Stephen Riddle as Kate and Ross, whose relationship is complex and at times confusing. One minute Kate is bristling with righteous anger and hatred, the next she’s flirting, dancing around the studio, and even suggesting they get back together. She has what appears to be a picture perfect life – big house, successful business – but something’s missing, and it’s clear that despite everything she still feels some lingering affection for her former lover. There are a few moments where the two connect and it seems like this affection might be reciprocated, but they never last long; Ross has his own idea of a perfect life and Kate, it seems, has never featured in it.
Eros sets out to tackle some interesting questions about human nature and our relationship with the ever-changing world around us, and offers an enjoyable opportunity for those old enough to reminisce about the joys of dial-up internet. The personal story of the characters is intriguing to watch as it unfolds, but unfortunately a lack of focus reduces the topical contribution that the play could have made to more than one ongoing discussion.
Can’t see the map on iPhone? Try turning your phone to landscape and that should sort it. I don’t know why but I’m working on it…
Ever felt like you’re not quite good enough? You’re not alone. In her debut solo show Ouroboros (named after an ancient symbol that depicts a snake eating its own tail, in an eternal cycle of renewal), writer and performer Charlotte Fox tackles society’s obsession with ego, superficiality, social media, narcissism and body image, and explores their effects on Charlotte, an actress in the entertainment industry.
“I was inspired to write Ouroboros by frustration with the lack of acting work,” explains Charlotte. “I was writing in response to what was happening around me, in my life and career experience. I struggled to reconcile with other people’s conflicting viewpoints. It felt like a constant battle, struggling against myself and having to obey an industry and society’s vision of ‘beauty’ and ‘perfection’ in order to fit in and seek acceptance.”
Following a run earlier this year at the Rosemary Branch, Charlotte is preparing to take the show to Edinburgh next month, where she hopes audiences will embrace its message and get involved. “It’s an explosive display on stage,” she says. “Ouroboros is like fireworks – a show that doesn’t come down, with highly physical and absurdist comedy elements, that discusses relevant and timely issues without being didactic. It has the ability to mix observational scenarios and parody them in a way that makes you laugh and cry before sending you away. It also combines music, dance, clowning, physical theatre, bouffon and a bit of mime!! One genre!? Naahh – chose ’em all!
“I’m looking forward to performing to a different audience everyday in Edinburgh. They all bring something different. You can sense it as soon as you step out. What one person might find disturbing can have another howling with laughter. It’s brilliant! I like sensing that, there’s interaction in this show and it’s fun as an actor discovering how you can play to the audience. Or how they are playing for you. I hope they’ll feel excited and moved by the whole experience, and have a willingness to re-examine their own lifestyle experiences, recall moments of similarity and most importantly laugh and perhaps squirm on the edge of their seats!”
The show, which is written, performed and directed by Charlotte, has been in development for the past year. “It’s been an incredible journey,” she says. “I wasn’t really too sure what to expect at the start – it was difficult, but I knew I was tapping into something important, I had an urge to keep exploring. I always knew the style of work I liked and had a vision of what I wanted to create. So collaborations with other like-minded theatre makers were made and Ouroboros started to flourish. I had a revelation when I realised not everyone will share your artistic vision. You have to be so strong and protect yourself against people who can try and contaminate your work… It was a big lesson for me.”
Performing the 60-minute solo show, in which Charlotte portrays “a conveyer belt of hyper-functional characters”, brings with it a number of physical and emotional challenges. “It’s a huge physical demand as a performer,” she says. “It’s also very close to the bone, which brings both a challenge and reward. I know that this show has left an impact on people in a similar situation. It’s sparked discussion. It’s also allowed me to find self-acceptance as an actor, allowing my own creativity and artistry to flourish regardless of what anyone says. You can decide to say yes to yourself.”