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October 7, 2013 5:12 pm
From Edward Snowden’s revelations, to anxious parents worrying about cyber-bullying and sexting, to late-night tweets that cause mayhem in the morning – the impact of digital technology on our personal lives is a fractious and pressing issue. Hats off then to Brigid Larmour, artistic director of Watford Palace Theatre, for commissioning and directing not one but three plays to grapple with the questions.
Gary Owen’s sprightly comedy Perfect Match looks at internet intervention in the age-old idea of the ideal partner. It’s one thing imagining that Mr/Ms Right is out there, quite another if you only have to type your specifics into a website to find them. So it is that Anna, seized by sudden doubt as to whether fiancé Joe is the man she should marry, consults a dating agency. A week later she is informing bewildered Joe that, never mind their nine years together, the “online personality data mining algorithms” have found her perfect mate and she is dumping Joe to marry the man of her dreams. Joe is not impressed. Neither are we when we meet him.
It’s a nippy, entertaining play that brings a light touch to huge themes – such as the question of what constitutes a perfect match, whether we can decide to love someone and why we treat the internet as some sort of latter-day oracle. It moves into absurd territory when all four characters – the perfect match and their two inconvenient exes – wind up in a Las Vegas hotel together. But the rapid and wild escalation of the plot is partly in keeping with the theme, reflecting the speed at which things can unravel in cyberspace. The confused couples (a 21st-century equivalent perhaps of the muddled lovers in A Midsummer Night’s Dream) are delightfully portrayed by Kelly Hotten, Ken Nwosu, Tom Berish and Eva-Jane Willis.
Override by Stacey Gregg also features a young couple obsessed with perfection. Living in a not-too-distant future, Violet (Matti Houghton) and Mark (Geoffrey Breton) have chosen to reject a technology-heavy world and move to a charming cottage where they are planning a natural birth for their new baby. But their rural idyll starts to crumble when Violet admits having been physically “enhanced” as a child. Soon they are entangled in a sci-fi nightmare and a moral maze, as Gregg engages with troubling subjects such as what constitutes normality and how far we should intervene when nature comes up short. The play becomes increasingly improbable but extrapolation is the point: we are already facing difficult questions – how far might we go? And it plays different notions of perfection off against one another.
And while Override conceives a world completely in thrall to technology, E.V. Crowe’s Virgin considers one struggling to catch up. Again the play is set in a rural community, but this time the locals are keen to embrace the virtual world. The focus is Emily, a local government employee who sees the campaign to bring high-speed broadband to her area as a holy grail, improving connectivity and enabling her to escape her job in admin. But will it really empower her?
Crowe opens up multiple lines of enquiry here: in a sense, the play’s structure is like a screen desktop with many internet pages open at once and nothing dealt with in depth. Though this may be deliberate, here it makes for frustrating drama, despite a riveting performance from Laura Elphinstone as Emily. But this mini-season, deliberately playing on the contrasts between the virtual attractions of the internet and the physical nature of theatre, touches on some of the most difficult and fast-evolving issues of our age.
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