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FringeReview UK 2018

Random Selfies

The Ovalhouse, Co-Op Foundation, Arts Council England

Genre: Children's Theatre, Comedic, Family, Multimedia, New Writing, One Person Show, Short Plays, Theatre

Venue: The Ovalhouse


Low Down

Mike Kenny’s Random Selfies, pacily directed by Owen Calvert-Lyons, with a phenomenal input from Rachana Jadhav who produces video design with illustrations forming an active backdrop. Ed Sunman’s also credited with input. Set might be the work of Martha Godfrey, technical stage manager, but is uncredited. Till April 7th.


Where does the self go in the selfie? Where is the self when it’s not in the picture? Ten-year old Loretta or Lola as she prefers, needs a guide to the perplexed, and can’t conceive of a picture where she’s not in it, to post for approval. And she can’t bear a name that’s not even in the top hundred favourite girl names. Special? she throws back at her mother. ‘I don’t want to special, not that special’ she rejects her unusual name. It’s almost as bad as being called Gladys (and guess who makes a joke of that as their middle name?).


But despite all this, as Lola repeatedly reminds us, she’s ‘See? Invisible.’ Her very invisibility’s not just the reasons she takes selfies, they become her invisibility. If she had to vote for superpowers she’d opt for flight, which her now absent sister said was stupid. However being invisible is a superpower. Except when you really want it.


Welcome to the world of digital peer approval in Mike Kenny’s enchanting, fleet and sweet-natured Random Selfies, pacily directed by Owen Calvert-Lyons, with a phenomenal input from Rachana Jadhav who produces video design with illustrations forming an active backdrop: from diving spindly cartoons interactive with pictures, views, blue-green immersion and so much more in the way of photoshopped views turned illustrations, imaginary scenarios. There’s eyes watering buckets down the wall even projected on a physical eye illustration on the yellow wall behind the bed; as the video eye answers it on the wall which in bottle-green default carries the fade-marks of a sister’s vanished posters. It’s like someone signing for your sixth sense. Ed Sunman’s also credited with input. It’s the fleetest use of story-telling I’ve seen and ideal for younger audiences as well as everyone else. There’s a lightness and knowingness that transcends its usual functions.


Simon Booth’s sound completes an immediacy where the neon pink and lemon bed with suddenly-appearing wardrobe behind the bedroom door with other fittings goes uncredited, which might be the work of Martha Godfrey, technical stage manager.


Moat of all though it’s Natalia Hinds’ vivid, detailed, infectiously-spirited performance that brings Lola bouncing off the walls of her bedroom, sassying up to others or curling into a self-disgusted ball. Hinds leads a crash course in how to be a kid.


Lola’s life changes gear when she spots a new girl Maya, who says she’s a refugee (there’s a photoshop cut-up of Maya on that wall), and Lola has to google asylum seeker. It’s not clunkily done, and despite Lola’s immediately taking Maya under her wing and declaring she needs a makeover: ‘the bag will do, but everything else will have to go!’


It’s in fact Maya who upends things. Miss asks Lola to take care of Maya, but it’s Maya’s who’s picked up on by Grace, one of the three girls who render Lola invisible, and it’s Maya who manages to cade an invite for Lola to a makeover party.


But she’s done this at a terrible cost, casually lying about her sister, which she intends to put right straight off. But there’s that invite. Still, she’s got nothing to wear.


Enter Miss Thing the older Pilates-studying lady upstairs who spends time meditating out of windows at ‘nothing and everything’ and has a caseful of photo memories and a wardrobe… She like Maya had to leave brothers behind though it’s not clear why this is so. The specific often become universal and whilst it’s right we don’t know Maya’s very precisely, perhaps Miss Thing’s might have been enlightening. It adds perspective.


‘What?’ Take a picture of something with you not in it?’ Miss Thing shows Lola that you can be in the picture without being there, and before Lola can quip her ‘See? Invisible’ mantra again Miss Thing proves it. She’s learned selfies don’t have any self in them at all. The self has to be found.


Miss Thing and Maya though are Lola’s good angels, so when Lola does get an epic makeover and things unravel, well. who do you turn to? Sometimes you turn to the window, not the wall. Just one of Miss Thing’s gifts to Lola.


This is sweet, fleet story-telling with just the right amount of pitch and yaw for anyone to take, without it becoming too dark or didactic. Lola’s engaging, and in Hinds’ hands utterly believable, energetically inhabited with a sense of fun clearly relished by this revelatory actor. She and Jadhav make this engaging work special; it should have a wide theatrical currency.