Production company Theatre Témoin are renowned for taking on important and topical issues, and current show Feed continues this trend, offering a disturbing look at capitalism and the dark reality of the internet.
Directed by Ailin Conant, Feed tells the story of Kate (Louise Lee), a journalist who receives news that an article she wrote on a murdered little boy in Gaza has gone viral. She should be excited that she’s finally getting her big break, only it turns out that the photo she used was actually of a dead child captured by her girlfriend Clem (Yasmine Yagchi). Meanwhile teenage make-up vlogger Mia (Esmee Marsh) is moved by the article and uses her beauty channel to post an emotional tribute to the little boy, which is promoted with the help of SEO specialist and internet troll Tim (Jonathan Peck). As her views and followers skyrocket, Tim encourages Mia to go shocking lengths give her followers “what they want” and boost her channel, while Kate becomes an internet activist. As the characters get caught up in this media storm and descend into madness it’s up to self-confessed technophobe Clem to try and save them before the internet sucks them in forever.
Feed takes a look at the online world of fake news, targeted ads, algorithms and clickbait culture. The play begins with A/B testing with the audience, and as people react it in turn shapes the actor’s performance. It’s an important idea that runs throughout the play – that people’s attention feeds the internet the information it needs to manipulate us, with no morals or ethics. This dark comedy becomes more surreal and bizarre as it goes on, but it also contains moments of genius where the action is painfully relatable to today’s society in a world where there is an obsession with social media and a seemingly constant need for likes. Mia resorts to self-mutilation to boost her followers; she and Tim engage in a conversation packed full of emojis; while in some scenes the action freezes, actors rewind and repeat their lines, as though editing what they’re posting to the outside world. Hilarious live adverts pop up in towers at each side of the stage (side bars), interrupting the action as they are triggered by certain words within the play (“pain” for example, leads to an advert for headache tablets).
The play was devised by the cast members and all four actors put in strong performances as their characters descend into the madness. Jonathan Peck is particularly effective as creepy internet troll Tim, who represents the worst of the internet, manipulating Mia to go to more extreme lengths to boost her popularity. Louise Lee and Esmee Marsh are believable as two people who are inadvertently lured into the dark depths of the internet and the bid to be popular, while Yasmine Yagchi’s character’s frustration is all-too evident as she tries to keep a grip on reality.
The show is certainly not for the faint-hearted (as this squeamish reviewer regrettably found out early on) and as the play goes on things get more extreme. Feed pushes the boundaries but it’s a darkly comic, clever and unsettling look at online culture. Probably the most amusing moment was at the end of the show, with cast members encouraging the audience to tweet about what they’d just seen. After seeing Feed, you might never want to go online again.
Photo credit: Nathan Chandler