Edinburgh Fringe 2019
We are in a courtroom, running by the very people Facebook was supposed to target and get onside; the young. They are here to put a missing Mark Zuckerberg on trial. Taking someone from the audience – a random, how teenage – to represent Zuckerberg, they then pull in an expert who tells us, using magic and theatrical trickery how social media manages to take our profiles, plumb our information and sell back to us things that apparently we want or fake news that we will believe. Combined with stories of how one politician, unlikely to win an election, is seduced into using a data company who abandon her as soon as there is trouble ahead and the story of her daughter, trying to get a boy, who ends up dropping her friend into the type of hell that technology is apt to create with carelessness. This is a moral tale that leaves us thinking we need to think more before we act a little less.
There are three equal narratives and three equal warnings in this performance. Whilst the conceit of holding a trial is handled well it is in the other two stories where the reality of a moral code is taught to us. The issue with the young girl who just wanted to be noticed is the most powerful of the three storylines. It manages to be so because we have the very people who will have experienced this as an issue in front of us. Much youth theatre likes to try and copy big people’s theatre or be overly clever but when a simple story is simply told by a group of people with authentic experiences, this becomes hugely effective on the stage for us to see.
The story of the election is a very bold choice. For any national body to mix even lightly with the political beast is open to criticism but I think that here the handling of it is skilled and clever. Having a labour candidate milkshaked and trying to win a Conservative safe seat could have gone awry but here it does not.
The script weaves all three together with style, and just as importantly, theatricality; it’s that kind of show.
Our young cast make full use of this opportunity and the full house was raucous in their enthusiastic support for them. Each performer had an eye on making an impact as a part of an ensemble cast and this was an exemplary piece of ensemble acting.
The piece was directed with an eye on each of the stories getting an appropriate airing and whilst the expert being a mentalist did threaten to drag a little at times, giving us the data analytics of a live audience member was a full on theatrical method of ensuring we got drawn in. the question will always be, were we drawn in or was it truly magical? How much of that data was planted and how much is a real experience.
There was also a confidence in the work with the audience – a fairly interactive audience – that could have threatened less confident performers as they got what they wanted and a little bit more. It was the sheer numbers of characters onstage that showed how to get maximum benefit from having such a large cast but in a fairly small space. It was an admirably collective piece of chutzpah. There was diversity in the voices, and the musical ability and all was live and being beamed back right at you!
This showed off what good youth theatre can do with sufficient investment to make a difference. There are young people who have the ability to play major festivals and perform major pieces of theatre with weighty issues. It has a charm and the brashness of the young to ensure we left the theatre afterwards not marveling at them but questioning our own selves; that’s not an analysis of youth theatre, but of theatre and you cannot get things better than that… after all a week is a lifetime online…