‘Virtual Impact’ review

The Rainbow Factory Studio Theatre

 9-12 March 2015

Four performers centre stage in diamond formation, heads down, adorned in black hooded tracksuits, a low wash of light bathing the stage, the ominous, almost sinister tone that is the backbone of this piece is set from the moment the audience takes their seats. Enter our narrator for the evening; a teenage student named Mark who has been set a school assignment to examine the virtual personas of his classmates and come to a conclusion as to the impact their online activity has had in reality.  Mark takes his seat at a spot lit desk and proceeds to introduce us to this most current and relevant subject material with which we are all to familiar.

Lights down and the four pre-set performers illuminate their faces using the flash of the cameras on their mobile phones, an innovative stage tool which is employed strikingly throughout the performance. The up-lit faces of the performers in their bold, black diamond formation confirms our initial suspicions that rock gods Queen have provided some level of inspiration and when the music starts, we hear the befitting lyrics, “Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy? Caught in a landslide, no escape from reality.” As the anthem continues we are left wondering if the initial verse had served its purpose and the rest of the song would be overkill. These fears are soon quelled however as the wonderfully choreographed entrance of a mass ensemble of phone flashes and black track suites fills the stage space demonstrating the strength of the work that is still to come. We are also treated to a series of an act that has brought the tableaux into the everyday, the selfie.

The cast’s performances showcase their multi-disciplined skill sets. We see them take over and transform the stage with well-rehearsed movement pieces, contemporary dance executed with sharp precision and flawless delivery of a script that they have created as a company. One scene in particular that stands out is one in which two performers are discussing posts that have been put online by a character called ‘Steve’ , posts that to one of the characters are nothing more than harmless fun but the other character sees the darker more harmful side of these posts. The ensemble then come together to show a young girl being berated by the malicious posts that have been uploaded onto the internet about her, this image is terrifying and enlightening for any parent/ carer/ young person who has known about posts such as these and turned a blind eye.   

Minimal set and props enables the well-rehearsed choreography to bring the stage to life. The production team also makes use of a series of projections on a screen, which acts as the backdrop throughout. Some of these work beautifully, such as the poignant images of the young victims of cyber bullying who have taken their lives in recent years, their faces, names and ages are all that we are shown while the cast tell us their stories one by one. This scene is presented with hard hitting grace and respect for the victims of this faceless killer, the images looking out over the heads of the young cast members leaves us with tears in our eyes and questions in our minds like ‘how do we stop this?’ A question that is soon answered by the simple yet well-constructed script – we can sign out. For the young audience this is such a simple act yet such a strong message that it could genuinely change their viewpoint of how to combat these trolls and cyber bullies.  There are moments however that could have done with a second look over in relation to these projections, such as the fonts and text sizes used for the titles of each scene, these seem to vary slightly and this does become a little distracting.

The positive impact that this production could have on audiences both young and old is much more than just Virtual. A thought provoking, challenging piece devised by the students of the Rainbow Factory which highlights the dangers of the internet and the frightening extent to which social media influences and controls the everyday lives of so many of us. We watch reporters and politicians talk about it on the news and across the general media, but to see it in action brings a level of reality to these topics that audiences will benefit and learn from. This is a performance that instead of diluting its content for young audiences, it uses excellent young performers to bring to the fore the reality of the situation.  Raising awareness of the dangers of social media and the internet in general and the methods that can be implemented to harness them can only be good for the young people and their carers who will be lucky enough to witness this dynamic piece of theatre.

Script ****
Performances*****
Production *****

James Fennell

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