By Eve Leigh.
The Jerwood Upstairs, the Royal Court Theatre, Sloane Square, London SW1 8AS to 21 December 2019.
Mon – Sat 7.45pm Mat Thu & Sat 3pm.
Runs 70 mins No interval.
TICKETS: 020 7565 5000
Review: William Russell 4 December.
The trouble with this infuriating and often fascinating play, if it is indeed a play, is that at times one has no idea what is going on. Two Avatars, a man who plays the drums and does all the talking, a woman who communicates in sign language and dance, stand on their personal mini revolving stages in each corner of an attic bedroom. It seems that in the small hours of the night the man goes on the internet, or people not necessarily this man go on the internet and there live out substitute lives where horrible things, some explicitly recounted, others implied, occur. Eve Leigh’s piece holds the attention, the performers ( Nadia Nadarajah and To Penn) do first rate jobs – Penn has all the speaking to do, and how good his memory is we see because what he says is flashed up on the walls which act as a kind of computer screen. It probably also helps that his missus wrote the piece. Eve Leigh has a reputation as an avant garde writer for the theatre and this collage of tales is undeniably intriguing. The wilder shore of the internet are not all here, but those that are, some entertaining, some scary and some enlightening, conjure that world up to effect. Exploring the web has its thrills, nobody who dips even the smallest toe in the ocean of cyberspace could deny, and setting the action in an attic bedroom where just possibly someone is dreaming it all up in front of a screen in the wee small hours manages to create the necessary feeling of voyeurism. One effective moment comes when a woman is drowning in the water tank on the roof of her building after something or other may have happened to her in the lift and the Avatar goes to a fish tank in which a plastic yellow duck is floating and stirs the water so that the sound is picked up by a handily placed microphone – it conveys the sensation of drowning quite horribly. As for the ducks, well later on he takes a handful – there are several scattered around – and tries to land them in a miniature inflatable duck paddling pool the female Avatar is wearing as a hat which is funny if incomprehensible.
It may indeed be arousing to take one’s body wherever one wants in the unreal world of on line, but it would also be nice to end up knowing why one was invited on the journey and end up feeling enlightened as a result having gone on it, one of the things the theatre should do. But Mr Penn and Ms Nadarajah are good company, skilled at what they do, and time passes quickly.
The stories – or at least the internet windows that get opened – are not quite as enthralling as they might be, and it is the Avatars who hold the attention. In one ta girl ends up in a lift with someone – or something – dangerous. In another she is in a water tank drowning. In one we see a protest in Trafalgar Square, in one a man describes gay sex, in another a young girl gets involved with a whale and so on. Among the incidental pleasures is a gorgeous blue plaster Venus de Milo on a plinth who gets to wear headphones and is wheeled around to what purpose is not clear and the realisation that Mr Penn and Ms Leigh were the neighbours who overheard our Prime Minister and his partner have that late night spat which has nothing, of course, to do with the play but lends a certain something to it.
Avatars – Nadia Nadarajah & Tom Penn.
Director: Rachel Bagshaw.
Designer: Cecile Tremolleres.
Lighting & Video Designers: Joshua Pharo & Sarah Readman.
Sound Designer: Nwando Ebizia.
Drums Composition: Tom Penn/
Movement Director: Jennifer Jackson.
Costume Supervisor: Katie Price.