Social media has been one of the great revelations of the internet age, allowing for instant communication with strangers and giving every community a voice. It depends, however, on a certain level of trust. Do you really know who you’re talking to?
It’s this notion of ‘trolling’ that’s at the centre of Gene David Kirk’s incredibly disturbing one-act play, All Alone. With the rise of dating apps like Tinder and Grindr beyond the now archaic chat rooms of the past, it’s an issue that’s more pertinent than ever and fraught with ever-increasing danger.
At the front of the stage sits a teddy bear. It’s an ironic symbol of childhood, a literal front for the debauched man who lives in the messy flat before us littered with paraphernalia: used bed sheets; pornographic images; lines of cocaine in the bathroom; a dead woman (Caitlin Thorburn) dumped on a chaise longue (a past conquest or a symbol of what’s to come?); and, most importantly, a laptop balancing on an ironing board. It’s here that the main narrative plays out, the man (dual-cast with Nicholas Clarke and Nicholas Waters reflecting his schizophrenic, split personality) contacting a school girl via an internet chat room. “Anybody free to chat?”, he begins, innocently enough, though his intensions are clear. It’s a one-sided conversation, the audience left to imagine the poor girl’s replies.
The man speaks with both an adult tone and childlike mannerisms, conversing online and depicting an abusive past through monologue whilst singing twisted nursery rhymes. He appears to be from an educated family, reflected through Kirk’s use of music: ‘On The Street Where You Live’ is given a sinister undertone in the play’s opening moments, whilst the conclusion plays out like a slow-motion opera accompanied by ‘Dido’s Lament’ from Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas. The performance from Clarke and Waters (coincidentally sharing a first name) is terrifying yet deliciously realised as they switch from innocently licking an ice cream to miming fellatio in crazed sexual psychosis; boldly and politely enticing a schoolgirl to the flat, then cowering in a corner as the man relives his shocking past.
All Alone is a daring and provocative piece of theatre that explores the darkest depravity of the human mind. It has its moments of black comedy but will ultimately leave you feeling cold. The play doesn’t revel in its explicit content, instead using it as a thought-provoking warning. Kirk’s position is clear – these frightening characters aren’t even allowed the privilege of a bow.
Watch: All Alone was performed at the Drayton Arms Theatre for two nights (16th-17th March).