With social media now such an inherent part of everyday life, it’s little wonder that it has become such a prevalent subject matter within theatre.
Yet writer Phoebe Eclair-Powell and director Jamie Jackson have together found a fresh angle. Catfishing (faking a profile to pretend to be someone else online) is a real concern in our Internet-fuelled lives, but the duo layer catfish upon catfish to really ramp up the drama of WINK.
Interestingly, the relationship at the heart of the play is that of teacher and pupil. Mark (Sam Clemmett) is a 16 year old pupil who looks up to his teacher John (Leon Williams). John represents everything Mark wishes to be and so, late one porn-filled night, he creates a fake profile that he uses to woo John’s girlfriend. Except it’s not really her – fearing she is cheating on him, John replies to the messages pretending to be her. From there, the narrative grows into a complex web of deceit that crescendos towards a train-wreck of a climax.
To an extent, this is a play about the follies of men, but intertwined with that is the notion that nobody is quite who they seem. Mark is far from an innocent schoolboy: behind Clemmett’s boyish looks and cheeky smile, the character is perfectly self-aware and familiar with the perils of society, spending his evenings watching porn and violent video games. Williams’ dry and sarcastic John, meanwhile, is not the Adonis-personified that Mark perceives. He’s misogynistic, he’s cheating on his girlfriend, he drinks and smokes. Neither are likeable, yet it’s through the excellent and frequently witty writing and acting that the characters are so compelling. We witness the plot from both viewpoints as they merge and overlap in contrasting linguistic styles, allowing us to piece together the plot and feel the weight of its dramatic irony.
WINK is a little over-ambitious, however. This is a dense one-act play with multiple themes: technology, the dangers of the internet, identity, masculinity, father figures. Once the climactic (if slightly predictable) twists are unveiled, the plot is essentially a coming-of-age story of grief and loss – a clichéd way to end an otherwise intriguing narrative.
The direction follows suit. On the one hand, the use of a monochromatic colour scheme highlights the binary opposites of each character (as well as their similarities); the use of choreographed movement is inventive (if, together with the electronic music, perhaps inspired by Curious Incident…); and the choice of music is effective and emotive. Equally, these elements somewhat force the drama – it lacks a certain level of subtlety and is overly long. In trying to make a powerful statement (thematically and visually), WINK feels a little overwrought. Sometimes less is more.
Yet this gripping two-hander still manages to make a powerful statement, particularly about the dangers of living in our modern social media rich world. It just might make you think.
Watch: WINK runs at Theatre 503 until 4th April.
Photos: Savannah Photographic