I’d Be Lost Without It
The Old Market
25 Feb 2018
Wet Picnic’s headline quote from Total Theatre – “It almost doesn’t matter what they’re doing, they do it so well” – seems both high praise and a yet also to contain a forewarning of what happens when you start to believe the hype: the operative word is ‘almost’.
This young company, acclaimed for its outdoor and street theatre, has brought its ominous black comedy I’d Be Lost Without It to The Old Market, which has been transformed from the usual proscenium arch arrangement to an empty space, spotlit on 4 sides where lightboxes display the 4 pillars of the ‘logged-on world’ – Love, Nourishment, Procreation and Knowledge – and where the audience loiter, drift and are herded by the actors and instructions issued through wireless headphones.
Using ‘binaural sound’ (a method of recording that produces a 3-D sound effect), immersive and interactive theatre, the show is a darkly absurd exploration of our relationship to technology – from online shopping to internet dating, social media like/share obsessions to teens that film rather than save each other from death. In other words, all the bad stuff. Just say no, kids.
The scope of the subject matter dilutes the message of the show and leaves it feeling vague and imprecise. Despite the novelty of the headsets, where catchy pop is interspersed with ‘ironic’ messages to “relax and enjoy the phone friendly space – take a selfie – flick through apps – avoid awkward conversations”, and the cheesy fun of realising the audience is being played with by being given different instructions according to the colour of the headphones we’re wearing, there’s not enough emotional depth or clarity of message to be either moved or enlightened, just a vague sense of being lectured about consumerism and over-reliance on technology.
The young and charmingly perky cast do their best to engage the audience to participate in the interactive elements, getting each group to exercise their log-on fingers, dance, flirt with or ‘like’ the others, but the whole concept felt in need of a dramaturg to clarify exactly what they were trying to say, and wanted us to feel. The only moment I saw the performers drop out of their rictus-grin jazz-hands act to appear to express real angst, during a strange dance to Sia’s Chandelier, was fleeting and not returned to, and we were left to chuckle weakly at tales of humans failing to connect IRL and salutary tales of gamers who play themselves to death and single mums resorting to online porn to fund their shopping habits. The production was slick, the lighting and staging inventive, and clever use was made of the technology – yet the show was overlong, oversimplistic, and flabby. The seed of something darkly funny and interesting was there – it just needed developing. It turns out, it does matter what they’re doing, even when they do it well.
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