August 6-14, 16-27 (14.00)
Script: Stagecraft: Performance:
Feed is a four-person theatre production by Theatre Temoin and The Lowry Everyman Cheltenham, co-written by Eve Leigh and Erin Judge, and directed by Ailin Conant. It’s a compelling and timely play addressing some of our more disturbing contemporary trends, specifically taking a hard look at the damage social media is wreaking on our individual and collective psyches. The performance begins with a compelling speech about the internet and social media, rather resembling a Ted Talk, by the SEO expert (played by Johnathan Peck). The audience is instantly pulled in by his rapid change of accents with eerie sound distortions placing us on edge as he proclaims ‘attention’ to be the most important commodity at this stage of our global capitalist economy.
As we cut to the anniversary of two lovers (Louise Lee Devlin and Yasmine Yagchi), we can easily relate to journalist Kate (Devlin) being continually distracted from the present moment by the incessant buzzing of her phone. The vibrations herald notifications announcing her article about a boy killed in Palestine that is beginning to sweep the internet. Awkwardly, Kate has stolen a photograph from her girlfriend to use in this article knowing it is of another boy. When the truth emerges, their romantic anniversary descends into a bitter fallout that kickstarts the chaos of the rest of the show. When a young woman (Nina Cassells), a YouTube makeup artist sensation, expresses emotion in one of her videos over the boy’s death, she is drafted into the power moves behind the scenes of the internet. The play takes a truly sinister turn in a scene where she cuts her arm, drawing blood in order to encourage us to ‘feel something real’ for a child killed in conflict across the other side of the world. As she jumps onto and begins to steer the bandwagon of #feelfornabil, it’s a jab at our society’s fleeting, insubstantial hashtag outrage that often results in more damage than good.
Because the majority of the play is set in cyberspace, it allows for a great amount of freedom and creativity in the representation of online life. The set and the use of sound effects were innovative and effective, creating an immersive and disturbing experience. The scene where a critical text conversation is acted out, complete with inane sounding emoticons, is a stark reminder of how ungrounded and bizarre much of our daily communication now is. The references to the current political divisions, messianic movements and lack of constructive dialogue on the internet are all on point. The play is a stark warning to us all to wake up fully to the ways in which late-stage capitalism, and most specifically the amoral ‘attention economy’, is hijacking our minds, wrecking our values, efficacy and relationships in the process. The show begs us to reflect on our own complicity in allowing the suffering of the marginalised to become our narcissistic reward as our capacity for human empathy becomes increasingly narrowed.
There’s strong and compelling acting from all four actors from Theatre Temoin, trained in Lecoq pedagogy, with an emphasis on physical theatre and the use of masks. Theatre Temoin is a socially engaged theatre company, where the devising is non-hierarchical and emerges from discussions with communities. If the show seems at times a little OTT, remember that the viscerality of the production is part of a theatre tradition specifically designed to create strong, physical reactions in the audience. Mr SEO expert transforms into the quintessential imagined troll, stoking ferment in the background, the personification of a modern day Satan in a green feather headdress. As he envisages a future of grotesque mash ups of clickbait subjects, he stokes a ‘Lord of the Flies’ style mass descent into demonic infantilism. Indeed, following one of the mantras of the show, behaviour “without any adherence to morals, ethics or other forms of content moderation of monitoring”.
One scene is reminiscent of Childish Gambino’s This is America video sequence, showing what an effective tool the continual distraction of the attention economy is as a distraction from full understanding and engagement with some of the worst injustices of our modern world. With one individual character managing to hold on to sanity and a sense of morality, the show asks questions about how we might start to resist and move away from our current situation. By the end of the show, I was seriously considering deleting all my social media accounts. So when we were asked us all to head to Twitter to encourage others to come to the show it raised a few bitter laughs. Feed is a thought-provoking and clever piece of theatre, so try and catch it if you can!