Mobile phones are normally abhorred in theatres, but not in this performance. As I enter Soho’s top floor space all nineteen cast-members are tapping away on their devices.
Jodi Gray’s nine playlets brandish the strain of contemporary life. Technology consumes us and alters how we do everything, not least our relationships. The quick set changes and snippets of story are indicative of the expressway we live and harbours the sense of disjointment that we experience daily.
It is a contemporary show that was perfectly suited to the graduates from Oxford School of Drama, who better than their elders understand the impact of the technology obsessed world. The cast use their extensive vocal talents to create all the sounds for the play, including melodic intervals of spoken word, song and beat boxing, which anticipate the start of the next show.
‘Cookies’ and ‘chocolate’ were some of the words chimed out before the start of ‘Doughnuts’, which was the most difficult piece of the performance. The story, as the name suggests, was about food and obsessive consumption, which is resolved when the two girls make a pact to regulate their habits towards normality. Although it was touching in places and the two actors Hannah Ellis and Arabella Gibbins showed sensitivity to their roles and a clear affection for each other, it was a very quiet play that suffered the clarity of its resolution and lack of immediacy. The latter is essential for plays of such brevity. It is why comedy plays are best suited to the genre, since they allow for immediate gratification.
The plays about romantic relationships and sex had the best propensity for a laugh, although never without muted tragedy. Of course relationships are increasingly susceptible to technological innovation: Gray shows how technology has both increased the possibilities for love, but also often crushes its essence. This is clearly noted in ‘Proposal’, which questions how much of our relationship should we ever make social. The brilliant duo Rhys Bevan and Crissy O’Donovan went all out in their performance, so that the ridiculous scenario seemed almost believable.
All the cast shows an aptitude for performing short pieces of work and it was interesting to see their faces decompose after they finished a piece and had to continue with the melodic intervals. They were never inactive, and performed the role of the observer when they were watching off scene. It certainly carried a Charlie Brooker obtrusive tone, highlighted at the end of the show when they took their phones out to record the clapping audience.
Technology has shifted the patterns of our lives and Jodi’s play brilliantly characterises some of these changes, dramatically. How playwrights continue to cope with these developments will be something to watch.
Soho Theatre, London.