ZOMBIEGATE at the Theatre503
“Ebony Jonelle and George Howard have a genuine chemistry that lifts the whole production”
Matthew Gabrielli’s debut play certainly doesn’t shy away from the relevant and prevalent: Internet trolling, arguments for free speech, and cancel culture are all batted back and forth, changing hands between those that suffer and thrive under the harsh rule of social media, and those that perpetuate the worst of it.
Our troll is a giant papier-mache Punch puppet- unsurprisingly named Mr. Punch. And having spotted a selfie in which our protagonists, Sophie and Jamie, have unintentionally included a floral tribute for a dead child in the background, Mr Punch decides to try and ruin their lives.
There’s both not enough and too much being dealt with in this 90-minute straight-through. Most of the plot is fairly predictable, pointing out the injustice and cruelty of the internet, the very real effect it can have on your life. On the other hand, Gabrielli tries to touch on white privilege, sexism, classism, the ineffectiveness of the police, amongst other things, and there just isn’t time.
The use of puppets definitely adds to the production value, but it takes something away from the story itself. While I understand they facilitate a big reveal of Mr Punch’s true identity, the moment comes far too late, so there isn’t really enough time to understand him- we’re given to acknowledge that he’s a multifaceted person who’s done a lot of good, who has people he loves. But ultimately, he doesn’t seem too dissimilar to his puppet likeness.
All that said, Ebony Jonelle and George Howard have a genuine chemistry that lifts the whole production, and notwithstanding Howard’s Jamie having a slightly unbelievable character arc, their relationship rings true throughout. They’re funny and teasing, and despite being from different backgrounds, they seem to understand each other. Or at least they want to.
Delyth Evans’ stage design amounts to three lots of sheer curtains, a set of double doors, and a couple of stacking boxes. But the simplicity is quite elegant, creating various spaces and atmospheres with very little changed.
There’s a lot that’s good about this production; it’s very close to feeling important and urgent even, but the script wants a thorough going-over.
Reviewed on 8th November 2022
by Miriam Sallon
Photography by Danny Kaan
Previously reviewed at this venue: