Thursday 20 June 2019

Disconnected: Social-media satire is full of wit but lacks depth

  • Disconnected The New Theatre, Dublin Until Feb 2

Girl power: Hardiman's dialogue is smart and snappy
Girl power: Hardiman's dialogue is smart and snappy

Katy Hayes

Ali Hardiman's new play is a witty engagement with themes of toxic femininity and social-media dependence.

The play opens with Emma, a dippy social climber played by Hardiman herself, getting ready to go out to Bartholomew's Big Birthday Bash. This mainly involves Emma trying to smarten up her cousin Cassie (Sarah Foley), who has no phone and doesn't understand how to behave in the era of Facetagram and Instabook. She is schooling Cassie in how to "banter" with boys, and cajoling her into a sequinned dress.

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They are joined by Clementine (Madi O'Carroll), a loud and affirmative presence. These are silly posh girls, without a brain in their heads; they would all make good characters in a Ross O'Carroll-Kelly play. There are hints that Cassie has undergone some recent trouble, but they all avoid talking about it. It turns out that Cassie has just spent three months in a psychiatric hospital.

Audio-message alerts cue the actors to step out of character and deliver social-media updates. It is all so enjoyably fake. A particularly funny element involves Facetagram updates from Francesca (Fiona Frawley) describing the marvellous time she is having with her friends; meanwhile, the character simply drifts about the stage wearing a pretty dress and a vacant expression, talking to no one. The characters are so dependent on social media that when the network goes down, they are all at sea.

Hardiman is a winning performer, and her writing matches her comic performing style. But the skill of the writing is undermined ultimately by a philosophy deficit. The story turns on a very predictable hinge, with Cassie attempting to improve the lives of the others with an insistence on more authentic communication. The script briefly develops some complexity when Xavier (Gordon Quigley), the love interest, takes a sudden turn and starts ranting about Pádraig Pearse. But this interesting strand goes nowhere and peters out. The play is ultimately too simple.

Jack Scullion's set design, incorporating tinsel screens in gold and blue, brings plenty of sparkle to the atmosphere. Director Olivia Songer for ILA Productions steers the action adroitly, in particular enhancing the moments of humour.

Hardiman's dialogue is smart and snappy; she has the potential to develop as a good comedy writer. But she needs to give more thought to the overall concepts. What is she really trying to say? This satire on shallowness ultimately lacks depth.

 

 

A musical trip from Dublin to New York

Walk For Me, Project Arts Centre, Dublin Until Jan 26

Part gig, part play, Kate Stanley Brennan's show hangs on a collection of songs by herself (written in the persona of MissKate) and Adam Fogarty, aka MathMan.

We meet Mary Jane, a live-wire growing up in south county Dublin, negotiating Wes disco, going to UCD Freshers' Week, and finally fetching up in New York's nightclub scene.

Themes explored include unwanted pregnancy and unwanted sex. Stanley Brennan has a mellow voice and the songs have a contemporary, pop sound. She struts through the evening in funky, neon-coloured dance gear and the clubby dance routines are terrific - the audience loved them

The writing bears echoes of Emmet Kirwan's recent work, in its familiar, immediate subject matter, its druggy aura, and its neatly pleasing rhyme.

Video work by Bobofunk adds a sophisticated pop-art element to the mix of club atmosphere and theatre show. DJ Handsome Paddy makes his presence felt with zippy turntable work. For those who miss the element of narrative at gigs, this will give you a pleasing thrill. For those who find the theatre too contemplative and formal, this will give you a buzz. And Stanley Brennan, with her blonde extension mega-plaits, knows how to command the stage.

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