Reviewed – 7th March 2019
“an innovative, disturbing, sharply relevant piece that implicates viewers in the content they watch”
If you’ve ever wondered what being online would look like as a staged performance, then Theatre Témoin are one step ahead – they’ve replicated the internet in this pitch-black comedy devised by the cast (Jonathan Peck, Louise Lee, Esmee Marsh, Yasmine Yagchi) and directed by Ailin Conant. The storylines are constantly disrupted by bite-size, gif-like moments: Peck skips by in a neon green bodysuit. Lee and Marsh wear giant duck-head masks while playing golf. Windows light up at the edges of the stage for sidebar ads. The performers often freeze, rewind, and repeat, as though someone is editing a YouTube video.
While Feed may have brilliantly captured the chaos of the internet, the play is not the total anarchy its aesthetic suggests. This show is highly intentional, skilfully crafted, and very clever about communicating its message, which condemns fake internet activism: the people who vie for followers and fame by generating shallow sympathy (crying emoji) for tragic causes.
The story centres around a news article about a murdered four-year-old Palestinian boy named Nabil. The article goes viral, and its author, Kate, receives an avalanche of new followers. Eager to use her new celebrity for good (or perhaps just high on the attention), Kate becomes an extreme internet activist. Kate’s technology-averse girlfriend Clem watches helplessly as Kate becomes so obsessed with ‘likes’ and ‘views’ that she loses touch with reality.
Meanwhile, beauty vlogger Mia, moved by Kate’s article, posts a heartfelt message about Nabil and the situation in the Middle East. Mia quickly becomes the voice of justice for Nabil, #FeelForNabil. To continue to raise awareness for the plight of Palestinians (or perhaps to keep her spot in the limelight), Mia resorts to increasingly ‘shocking’ stunts for her vlog posts, including cutting her arm and painting her face with blood. Mia and Kate’s stories switch back and forth, sometimes so fast it feels like toggling between tabs.
On set, long blue drain hoses are used to represent ethernet cables. They wrap around the space, and eventually around the characters themselves. At the beginning, there’s a scene involving an argument about foie gras vs. the vegan faux gras. And at the end, when Kate has one of the hoses in her mouth, it’s a shrewd visual metaphor that perhaps we are all overfed content that advertisers (or more ominous sources) use to extract money and data from us.
As both Kate and Mia spiral out of control, the play escalates to a frenetic pace, becoming more and more outrageous and gory in its bid to keep our attention. The ads increase too, triggered by the characters’ words: ‘Pain’ sets off a commercial for Nurofen. ‘Talk’ gives us an ad for ‘TalkTalk’ – an ingenious mimicry of the algorithm for targeted ads.
Feed is an innovative, disturbing, sharply relevant piece that implicates viewers in the content they watch. Theatre Témoin is warning us all to wake up and smell the foie gras.
Reviewed by Addison Waite
Photography courtesy Theatre Témoin
Part of VAULT Festival 2019
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