<3_Error 404_<3

Megan Denny

at 09:25 on 15th Aug 2018

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Our relationship with technology is questioned by ‘<3_Error 404_<3’ as soon as the audience are seated: we are advised via a voiceover to keep our mobile phones ON for the duration of the performance. The use of mobile phones is central to Be Productions’ use of physical theatre, with each of the five female actors having one in their hands for the majority of the play. This is an effective way to emphasise the centrality of technology in our daily lives, as the actors address a series of voice-overs: ‘how does technology effect your relationships?’; ‘how is your everyday life effected by social media?’.

The physical aspect of the play is generally polished, clever and well-executed. In one scene, four of the actors ominously surround the character of an overwhelmed young woman, demonstrating the suffocating pressure of social media. In another scene, the isolation that social media paradoxically causes is expressed as each character sits on a chair at a distance from one another - emphasised by the torch on their phones. This is supported by great use of sound and lighting throughout. At certain points, however, the use of physical theatre begins to seem repetitive, and so loses some of its impact. For example, a scene where characters discuss Twitter while miming putting on makeup feels somewhat confusing and overly long.

Occasionally, there is a sense that certain topics are discussed on a somewhat superficial level. I particularly notice this as the actors address fandom - a phenomenon hugely enhanced by the growth of technology - by playing five stereotypical, female, 14-year-old One Direction fans. While this scene is amusing, the diverse and interesting psychology of fandom is neglected. Being verbatim theatre, this may be a result of who was interviewed while the script was being written.

Overall, the use of verbatim theatre may limit this script’s perspective on technology and social media. However, ‘<3_Error 404_<3’ remains an enjoyable play which may make you reconsider your relationship with your mobile phone.

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Ella Kemp

at 09:33 on 15th Aug 2018

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If you ask anyone who uses social media how their life is affected by it, the lack of variety in the answers could offer a lukewarm surprise. In '<3_Error_404_<3', emerging company Be Productions uses “technology” as a springboard for a dynamic exploration of a phenomenon that might still exist, but that hardly feels revolutionary.

The production is structured around a number of questions, clearly stated in a voiceover. How is your everyday life affected by social media? How does social media affect your vulnerability? Broad questions allow for even broader answers, as the all-female ensemble plays out the answers they received through relentless and passionate physicality (and a few dodgy accents), within a technical framework of intricate sound design and playful lighting. But not even the most exciting production can give this show the singularity it’s lacking.

The problem isn’t in the performance. The young women retell the fairly mundane anxieties with verve, but they’re hindered by the very concept. Is it newsworthy that the internet is bad? Challenging Twitter and Tinder, shoehorning a fake FaceTime call, and creating some kind of fictional online fangirl chatroom (FYI, Directioners would be having this chat over Twitter DMs), issues of self-esteem, FOMO, online dating and sexual assault are skimmed over without digging much deeper.

Ambition prevents '<3_Error_404_<3' from hitting as hard as it could. The brilliant comedy of the fandom sequence deserves a full-length exploration, and the candid confessions of sexual harassment and gaslighting have been taking up column inches across national newspapers where they should still be given more. There’s a brief mention of Revolt Sexual Assault - a national campaign founded at Bristol University to hand back the power and give a voice to survivors of sexual violence at universities. It’s a shame that such a vital initiative, still thriving and growing, is only name-dropped, barely noticeable if you hadn’t heard of it already.

When thanking audience members and ironically telling them to follow the company on social media, Be Productions could instead be giving viewers a tangible course of action to support Revolt. The dangers of the internet might not be new, but 'Error 404' at least has the important intention of changing the norm, and of keeping these issues in conversation.

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