Octavia Cobb reviews a new play that seeks to uncover the hidden world of fandom and the risks of online personas
In light of the recent hacking scandal on celebrity figures – involving the acquisition and distribution of photos of a private or sensitive nature into the public domain – the themes tackled by Real Person Fiction are certainly pertinent. It is the first production from the Living Robot Theatre Company in which characters Jen, played by Chelsea Marie, and Stuart Cotrelleli as Eli are struggling to make sense of their lives as public personae. Members of a TV cast, Jen is subject to torrents of online abuse from the fans of Will, her ex, over Twitter, while Eli’s own personal life is dissected ruthlessly over speculations of a romance between the two men (an off-set drama of its own). As such, the play explores the various layers of reality which the audience are forced to negotiate: we are watching actors playing actors forced to keep up an act over social media. This struggle is embodied neatly by the limited staging of the Black Box at Exeter Phoenix. The audience line either side of the stage in rows, with the lack of distinction between us and the stage enhancing the sharp sense of claustrophobia and discomfort we feel at being placed within Jen’s own apartment. The visuals suggest that Jen is never quite apart from the prying eyes of the public, especially in watching the hysteria and tension develop, I felt as if I’d stumbled onto the set of the Jeremy Kyle Show.
We ourselves are made to feel like the perpetrators, playing part of the drama-craving, sensation-demanding public from which Jen is so desperate to escape. A phone on a table buzzes incessantly both prior to and during the performance, serving as the narrative fulcrum around which all the characters actions and reactions are based. In the opening sequence, the audience is bombarded by pre-recorded comments issued from social media sites, official reports intersecting with the snubs and musings of fan bases, evoking poignantly the grim and inane nature of technological invasion. However the play fails to provoke serious audience consideration on the implications of such a phenomenon. Paranoia, entrapment and the superficiality of human interaction are all black cabs hailed but not actually got into within a script bearing too much similarity with that of a soap-opera than that of real life. While this maybe impresses on the inability to distinguish the threshold between the public and private, we fail to identify with an initially self conscious Eli, whose sass is neither nasty nor endearing, while the fluctuating hysteria and meaning-devoid moaning of Jen means that she is a character whom we become slightly bored by rather than sympathetic with. While there are gleams of genius delivered in the occasional line, “Sometimes they know more about my life than I do myself”, I feel the play fails to hammer home the threats posed by social-media, derived from an insatiable desire be implicated in the lives of the famous. Instead of walking away with a sense of guilt and revelation the play no doubt aspires to inspire, it was interesting to note the first action undertaken by an audience heading towards the doors, which was, tellingly, to check their phones.
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