"More of a Kaleidoscopic nightmare"
by Sheila Cornelius for remotegoat on 13/04/12

'Emoticon' is one of a trio of gritty new plays by different authors in the third 'Write Now Festival' at the Jack Studio Theatre. It captures the rawness of teenagers at their most unattractive in a world where virtual reality allows them to project any image they like.

Moi Tran's glistening blue stage suggests the glare of a computer monitor and reflects the social network theme. A map-like electronic image provides a backdrop of sudden turns and dead-ends. Katherine Lowry's versatile lighting and Mick Paul's soundtrack set the mood for break-dance cavorting and slow-motion violence as well as spot-lighting individual characters as they comment on the action.

You wouldn't want to meet a member of this foul-mouthed quartet on the streets; their behaviour is as repulsive as their appearance. James (Sam Goodchild) for instance, is obsessed with punishing his 'skanky' mother, preferably by setting her alight, but for now he'll settle for decamping to Manchester with a girl he met on Facebook.
'Full-on estate girl' Tiani (Fiona Sowole) hitches her school uniform skirt up twice before setting out in her 'extra super lash curved brush mascara'. She aims to goad a teacher into committing professional suicide by molesting her. It's not that she wants to improve her Maths grades - it's just to teach him a lesson for calling her 'foxy'.

Hannah Woods convinces in two roles: as Alice, a Goth in fishnets who relishes putting the boot in when a gay classmate goes down, and as 'Gimp Girl' on a social network site for the disabled. In the latter character she's more challenged, and does well to convey the mixed emotions required by the part.

Sam Harding gives a sympathetic portrayal as the sensitive Dale, beautifully co-ordinating facial expression and body language in the beating scene that reminded me of Kubrick's 'A Clockwork Orange.' Even the over-exuberant young audience fell silent. Omar F. Okai's in-your-face direction enhances the impact of this hour-long play.

In an after-show Q&A session, award-wining Australian playwright Melissa Bubnic described working with British teenagers to get the authenticity of the language right. I liked learning that McDonalds is known to fifteen year olds as 'Maccy D', although at times the posturing and revolting verbal images seem included just for shock value.

It's a shame, too, that the play was too short for us to witness consequences or developments - Dale's beating goes unpunished, James goes back home when his luck runs out and we don't know whether it was Tiani or her teacher who emerged best out of their situation. Only Gimp Girl shows a glimmer of accepting that her disabled admirer might be the answer to her loneliness. This and the episodic structure make it more of a kaleidoscopic nightmare than a play.

For drama with an up-to-the-minute feel about it, I'd recommend a visit to the Brockley Studio to see this the other plays in the Festival; there's also a programme of workshops for aspiring playwrights

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