EFR - Reviews of Chatroom

Chatroom

Fri 3rd – Sat 11th August 2018

reviews

Anna Marshall

at 06:28 on 6th Aug 2018

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In a darkened corner of the internet, teenagers are meeting to anonymously confess and seek comfort. 'Chatroom' presents an echo chamber of teenage anxiety, in all its hormonal horror. Endo Walsh’s play is teeming with cynicism. Sixteen year olds spit at the idea of Harry Potter, whose childhood realistically only predestined him to be “a thirty year old retard who’s developed his own under the stairs language”. Walsh’s script is at times overly contrived, demonstrating a play written by an adult to reflect youth problems: yet the message is clear and Raw Alchemy’s cast have worked hard to make it still feel contemporary (despite having references to Britney which most of them wouldn’t have been alive for).

Carli Green, as the ringleader William, captures the opinionated and cynical swagger of his character with a rare sass, allowing him to deliver his lines with a brutal sharpness. He makes the audience want to agree to reject JK Rowling as government propaganda. Ethan Hughes presents the character of Jim: an energetic, trapped and flailing teenager who visibly twitches with humility and awkwardness. There’s a potent display of the evil and good within us all in this production. In these teenagers, snap outbursts allow traits to polarise. It’s a good lesson in the role of a bystander, and a play I imagine would go down well with a secondary school audience.

Director Steve Moyse has made heavy use of shadows and light in 'Chatroom'. While this has obvious metaphor and allows the cast to compartmentalise their performances into chunks (they’re either on or off, like computers), it does seem rather heavy handed. Putting each character into a hoola hoop seems uninventive when the cast in all other ways excel themselves beyond being defined as youth performers. Walsh’s writing suits a young cast due to its tendency to monologue, but these monologues are hurdles to trip on, and risk repetition.

There is some good use of physical theatre, with a dance sequence providing a chilling automotive edge, and further use of this rather than the simple ‘hoods up, heads down’ approach to scene changing would have been nice to see. But the cast share the story’s weight to together lift it to a high standard. Aimee Cook’s performance as Laura sensitively navigates suicide prevention awareness with maturity and conviction. There are many moments where the raw potential of this troupe shines through: this is a talented cast with promise.

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Molly Stock-Duerdoth

at 09:23 on 6th Aug 2018

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Raw Alchemy are a new Cirencester-based theatre company whose show ‘Chatroom’ explores the difficulties associated with the anonymity and ambiguity of online communication. It’s a dramatization of a chatroom discussion, with the teenage cast scattered around the stage, reclining on pillows and staring into laptops, each speaking and moving only when floor lighting indicates that they are online.

The show begins with a series of entertaining discussions on the relationship between childhood and truth – in real life Willy Wonka would be locked up in prison while Augustus Gloop made his fortune, and Britney Spears betrayed pre-pubescent girls by sexualising lyrics about their experience. There is real power and anger in the delivery as the teenagers begin to come to terms with the unfairness of the world, and realise the injustices they have faced without even knowing. The attitudes behind these arguments, however, shift quickly from interesting to frightening as the conversation turns from pop cultural analysis to depression and suicide.

The scenes jump between various chatrooms, with the same six people joining and being kicked out of numerous chats across several evenings. The drama is driven by vulnerable Jim’s eagerness to share his feelings, and eventually his dilemma of whether to kill himself. When he reveals that he has been feeling depressed, chatroom members William and Eva take it upon themselves to encourage him to commit suicide, while Emily, Laura, and Jack aim to dissuade him. It is not made entirely clear why William and Eva are so eager to encourage him; it is explained that they are looking for a cause and a sense of purpose, but promoting suicide is quite a leap from disillusionment.

What is communicated brilliantly is the intense vulnerability of those in the chatroom, and their desperation to be heard and understood. While William buries his insecurities beneath cynicism and logic, Emily wields hers like weapons, and Laura keeps hers quiet by insisting that she would “rather just listen” when she clearly also needs to talk. They are terrified, too, of being dismissed; frequently they accuse each other of being “one of those…” of various clichéd social groups, and each are struggling for an identity beyond generalisation, something clearly impossible in the facelessness of a chatroom.

Some of the multimedia aspects are a little strange; a film is played towards the end, reminding us that there is life outside the stark chatroom set. But the film also jars with the rest of the play, and I can’t help thinking that the actors could have brought it to life better on stage. However, overall this show dramatizes brilliantly the susceptibility of teenagers to damaging ideas, and the importance of safe spaces to communicate. While it is by no means a full examination of mental illness, topics which could quite easily be glamorized or dealt with superficially are presented with emotional honesty and an awareness of the complexity of feeling behind them. Credit to the troop, too, for promoting mental health charities and raising money for the Samaritans.

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