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Brighton Fringe 2024

Super Connected

The Tim Arnold Company

Genre: Film, Live Music, Music, Sci-fi, Theatre

Venue: Ironworks


Low Down

Tim Arnold’s brilliant, multi-faceted, production for our age, rages against the machine.


Should we talk about the impact of the digital world on human beings ? On a macro level, there are grave concerns about the influence of the internet on democracies and the threat of cyber attacks upon institutions, industry and, Heaven help us, nuclear power plants. On-line platforms can amplify views and prejudices, gaining traction exponentially, sometimes with tragic and unforeseen consequences. But Tim Arnold’s seismic Super Connected instead examines the effect of digital exposure and dependency on families and individuals’ mental health, asking important societal questions.

Super Connected is a collective of theatre, film and music, forming a fusion tantamount to a rock opera. It has an accompanying album by the same name, which is constructed as a concept album, i.e. one with a cohesive, underlying, message. The production unfolds in a series of short films displayed upstage, with a live music track accompanying each one. Arnold sings and plays guitar, with Sarah Kershaw harmonising on vocals and keyboard. It is groundbreaking, vital and poignant.

The narrative depicts a dysfunctional family : a couple (Tim & Kathleen) and their two children. The older child (Dixie McDevitt) appears to have detached herself from the world, remaining in bed while consuming endless streams of digital output. “I shouldn’t stay in bed all day/I should be dancing in the sunshine, but … I’m super connected”. The juxtaposition between her passive consumption of images on her laptop and her visceral consumption of an apple is stark.

The couple (Tim Arnold and Kate Alderton) clearly have communication issues : The Touch Of A Screen is a lament for better times (“it’s not like the old days when we were the best”). Kathleen is focussing on providing on-line content, attempting to express love through a device, obsessively posting, while unaware that a real person is voyeuristically observing her. She dives down the rabbit hole of image manipulation, losing sight of the pervasiveness of media platforms and their veracity : “she can’t stop it…each time there’s more to bare”.

Kathleen’s mother (Valerie Charlton) is in a wheelchair and is taken to the park by her carer (Jessie Doyle), together with the younger child (Roxy Easton Doyle). Grandmother and grandchild easily connect with no inhibitors to communication ; they are engaged and in the moment. There is a sad disparity here : the older child, perhaps autistic, remains in her room, with meals being left outside suggestive of a prison cell. There is an imagined, Jerry Springer style, reality TV sequence, bringing a physicality to their dysfunction.

The narrative moves into futuristic territory now, with humans installing virtual reality headsets, Stephen Fry voicing an advert. These presumably high functioning headsets may have various sci-fi influences (e.g. Grant Naylor’s Better Than Life or Black Mirror), but within the context of this story, it is only too clear that these headsets will further isolate the wearer. The Complete Solution alludes to Will Durant’s philosophical assertion that excellence is a habit ; however, in this era of Artificial Intelligence, robotics, drones and service delivery, this can be seen as foreboding.

Information and Communications Technology (ICT) was supposed to enhance communication, but in a depiction of a split screen on-line group call, “everybody’s talking, but they’re talking all at once”. Such noise.

Arnold joins a self-help group, whose members are encouraged to destroy their phones. The leader’s purple attire has deliberate religious connotations of repentance, mourning and self-reflection.

Arnold’s final, arching, desire in Make Me All Right : “give me love”.

Kate Alderton directed the live production, with Tim Arnold directing the film. Both are accomplished with aplomb. Arnold’s alter-ego brings to mind Bowie incarnations Ziggy Stardust and Aladdin Sane, with FKA Twigs’ eyes thrown in for good measure. Another lovely touch was the nod to the iconic Maxell cassette advert with the man on the Le Corbusier chair. But perhaps the moments that will live longest in the memory are those in which Tim Arnold (the live musician) turned away from the audience to rage against the messages on the screen behind him.

The music itself is a feast for the aural senses – the style leaning in to the idea of the rock opera, but combining indie music (no surprise given Arnold’s background as the frontman of 90’s Indie band Jocasta) with string quartet. It is exciting, moving and charming.

Tim Arnold implores you to remove yourself from the shackles of the data and digital milieu. The Tim Arnold Company producers asked audience members to cable tie their mobile phones before entering the Ironworks arena. In so doing, they were seeking to create a cohesive, emotional and uninterrupted experience. This could have been construed as a way to protect the brand from illegal filming and publishing. But not at all – rather, it was the advancement of an idea : the idea that, just for an hour and a quarter or so, you commit to the moment, share the physical experience with your fellow audience members and the performers – to feel super connected.

This production is a warning to humanity about today’s digital age and chillingly the one that inexorably will follow. Any piece of art should have the audience leave with more than they entered the room with. Super Connected definitely succeeds : it is a hugely significant piece of work, containing a vital message, carefully constructed and brilliantly performed. Outstanding.