Saturday 2 March 2019

02/03/19: Connecting..., Chapel Playhouse

A one-man show written and performed by Billy Hicks, and produced and directed by Lucie Regan, Connecting... is a funny and moving look at what it means to be lonely in the era of technology.

In 1997, a nine-year-old boy is moving into his new bedroom. We learn that he struggles to connect with others and make friends. He records cassette tapes of himself speaking about his interests and raving about his love for Doctor Who. The choice of that iconic timelord isn’t an arbitrary one: the show itself simulates time travel, leaping forwards a few years with every subsequent scene. Each time we encounter him, through puberty and into adulthood, the protagonist is a little older but still just as lonely. As he embraces the ever-changing technology made available to him (from MSN Messenger to Facebook and smartphones) – and as the narrative continues to fast-forward to the present – we are reminded of how the electronic networks that are meant to be “connecting” us are also increasing our isolation. On the internet, you can be anyone you want to be. But the inevitable flip side of this freedom is that accumulating “friends” and “likes” is no substitute for real friends who really like you.

What makes it compelling is the hugely energetic physical comedy of Billy’s performance as he bounces around the stage. Then there’s his quick-fire verbal dexterity. He reels off a barrage of cultural references from TV and video games, as well as bringing them to life by imitating the sound of early internet dial-up and singing or miming fragments of indie-pop hits of the early 2000s. It amounts to a torrent of expression that must have been expertly rehearsed to be performed so fluidly without stumbling. It’s especially notable how well Billy inhabits the world of a child. Plus, some of the lines (such as the clever joke about the fourth wall) make you think as well as laugh.

Thematically, it could have ended up somewhat simplistic – life can be lonely, technology can be alienating – but the performance is sufficiently quirky and imaginative to explore those themes in depth. Likewise, this could have become an excuse for lazy nostalgia. Remember Sonic the Hedgehog? Remember Wheatus? But the barrage of ephemeral recollections is used to underscore the mindset of a restlessly changing young man and the quickly evolving times in which he strives to find meaning.


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