Wednesday, 27 March 2019

REVIEW: Purge - The Lowry Theatre, Salford.

Hannah Ellis Ryan’s new play “Purge” is a thoughtful and well-structured exploration into some aspects of the female psyche that often remain undiscussed on stage. Focusing on young women’s participation on YouTube channels to promote fashion, makeup, and other appearance-connected matters, and the impact this has on the self-worth of both their thousands of followers and the young women themselves, this is 21st century theatre on 21st century issues. Produced by Manchester ADP, this evening’s performance took place at The Lowry Theatre in Salford.

Three central characters were based on three real-life Internet celebrities. Zoey Barnes’ character Leia was based on the real Leia May: a young woman who became renowned for the Youtube videos she made about her bulimia, and who caused widespread anxiety about her health when she abruptly deleted her channel in 2014. In “Purge”, the Leia story was shown as a series of filmed segments projected against the back wall with the channel title “Confessions of a Bulimic.” Filmed in close-up, Barnes’ performances were mesmerising in their brittle fragility, and as the former flatmate of a bulimic, I could feel how truthful her simply-presented chats to the camera were. Abruptly during the show a Leia video cut out, leading to a flurry of text messages on the screen from concerned fans – and Leia was not referred to again.

Amy Du Quesne’s character Regina was based on the real Marina Joyce: a Youtube star who caused extensive concern among her hundreds of thousands of followers by dippy behaviour in videos, visible bruising, and suggestions that she was on the receiving end of violence, which prompted a worldwide Twitter trend #SaveMarinaJoyce – and then a big backlash when it was indicated it could all have been fake. In “Purge”, Regina was both on stage physically and shown through her own Youtube videos in projection, and as a sixteen-year-old teetering between internet adulation from strangers and bolshy stubbornness when dealing with her concerned mother, Du Quesne’s performance was effortlessly fluid and genuinely moving.

Seen only in video projection were a trio of vapid Youtubers with glossy tans and curling American accents: Kylie, Brianna and Kellie. Kylie, performed with relish and drawn claws by Eva McKenna, was based on the real Tana Mongeau, a Youtube star treated poorly by the official Youtube convention VidCon, who set up her own event in 2018. In “Purge” the star-struck Regina, having stolen her mother’s credit card and flown to California to attend “KylieCon”, was caught in the midst of the disorganised chaos that followed, and the real footage of 20,000 angry Youtube fans calling “Re-fund! Re-fund!” was projected at the back. Having made her dippiest video yet, Regina’s online behaviour prompted a plasticly insincere video from Brianna, bitingly played by Beth Hunter, who amidst the “No Judgement” comments and fake smiles launched the #SaveReginaJoyce hashtag. After it was all over, Kellie was the new face of Youtube, in a sunny yet cool performance by Purvi Parmar, suggesting that no matter how many bodies the Internet collected, there would always be new ones.

Back in the non-digital world, Regina’s mother Carole, a sympathetic Clare Cameron, and the ever-helpful Doctor, warmly performed by Emily Heyworth, both struggled to connect with Regina’s online absorption over her real life – and the fine line she was crossing over into what is truth and reality, and what is not. Totally separated from it all was the Youtube consumer May, quietly binge-eating junk food while glued to all the above dramas on her laptop, and hoping for a smile of appreciation from the handsome man in the coffee shop. Elise Taylor’s performance was in contrasting quietness to all the heart-shaped posturing of the depicted role models.

Director Kayleigh Hawkins’ touch was light, and segued in all the contributing technology cleanly. There had been so much noise from so many characters, it was quite a shock in the curtain call to discover I had been watching only four actors in the flesh.

Reviewer - Thalia Terpsichore
on - 26/3/19

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