I have a confession. I’m not a fan of Zoom plays. Going to the theatre is an experience, a night out, a chance to escape. I don’t want to sit in front of a laptop screen and watch actors on perform on a video conferencing platform that I didn’t even know existed before March.
So I am delighted that writers/directors Helena Aeberli and Riana Modi have proved me wrong. They have found a concept that is intrinsically suited to Zoom, making use of the form in an innovative and daring way.
The concept is a familiar one for any fans of the hit Netflix Show Black Mirror. The consciousness of Julia (sensitively played here by Cosima Aslangul in her acting debut at the University) is uploaded onto a virtual cloud called the Simulacrum Project after her death. Can there ever be life after death? And can you ever fully copy another human being without them becoming ‘an unsatisfactory imitation or substitute’?
In a play that deals with so many themes (climate change, religious fundamentalism and the failings of late capitalism to name a few), I was worried that the script would feel bloated. Yet Aeberli and Modi have managed to tie them together subtly and inventively. They form an ecosystem of themes— a web in which absolutely everything is interconnected, forcing us to question how much power we actually have as an individual.
The script truly shines in the tender moments of domestic drama between Julia and Matthew (performed with real gravitas by Gregor Roach). A line that stood out for me was ‘even in life after death, all you want to talk about is the weather’. Whilst it features several science fiction elements, character always come first. The dark apocalyptic undertones are always balanced out with lighter moments of wit.
The other performances were also standout. Georgina Dettmer and Elise Busset both showed a real naturalness and subtly in their screen-work, whilst Henry Calcutt performed Doctor Duarte with a deliciously evil sense of relish. Particular mention must be given to Cosima Aslangul, who is on screen for almost the entirety of the play. She gives a performance that is remarkably mature and exhibits real psychological depth. Her physical tics that increase over the course of the play palpably convey through her body her interior decay.
Chaos Productions made this a theatrical event that cannot be missed. The video editing to include deliberate screen glitches ensured that the play was visually dynamic. With an interval and a pre-show screen reading ‘please wait, the show will begin shortly’, I felt almost as if I was sitting in a theatre in-person again. References to Shakespeare (‘players strut their hours on stage’) gives the play a real meta-theatrical awareness, challenging the very nature of what we consider the form of theatre to be. Whilst the play can never truly capture the sensation of being there in person (which is in effect what the play is actually about), Aeberli and Modi come about as close as possible.
The script could have been shortened slightly, with less exposition needed at the beginning. And the music, although very sinister and effective, could have been used more sparingly especially in the first half. But Chaos Productions should be commended for creating a Zoom play that is beautifully theatrical and engaging to watch.
Tickets are still available for the remaining shows on TONIGHT and TOMORROW so don’t miss out! https://www.ticketsource.co.uk/chaos-productions?fbclid=IwAR2osVb7yaSuRJiccfc-HHY3p82CogmeNP3olwVGBMNKCXrJu65DXeIw7i0