“We’re not junkies,” says Michael, the newest member of a group for Internet addicts. His relationship may be in tatters, but his YouTube videos have become a sensation (almost 2,000 hits a day). This is Anonymous Anonymous, AA, if you will. But Michael’s right in a way. The four people sitting in this circle haven’t hit rock bottom through any of the more “traditional” addictions. They’re here because they can’t stop Tweeting, can’t get off Facebook, they scour and contribute to forums as day turns into night.
There’s Aaliyah, who dives in on never-ending WhatsApp gossip, because who wants to be left out? George revels in emoticons, group chats and relationship statuses, who’s blocked who; Sam, when she arrives, speaks of her inability to listen to music, as listening to music leads to downloading music, a road she won’t walk. The Internet as an enabler – of friendship, communication, hobbies – has turned ugly. Alison, the group’s moderator, has been “clean” for months, but she’s had to take a job she’s probably overqualified for, one that doesn’t require a web connection.
There’s something deeply unsettling about watching the meeting play out in The Space’s slightly claustrophobic surroundings. It’s an interestingly physical piece of theatre, with side conversations in full flow at the stage’s fringe and attention pulled in many directions at any given moment. There’s a justified confidence at work in letting the circle of chairs available and the close proximity of those watching do their job, an honesty in the minimal reliance on anything but the space, its actors and audience. And the dips and curves of Philip Carter Lindsey’s excellent script, its moments of revelation are sometimes hilarious, often tragic. The roles are well-defined, relatable and human. “Basically, I’m just really bored all the time,” says Sam: a truth almost unbearably sad in its honesty. The Internet’s limitless possibilities are at once powerful and destructive, and it’s precisely this potential that snags and refuses to let go. None of them can use it again, and now they can’t remember what on earth they did before.
Director Grace Gummer, who recently assisted Alexander Zeldin on Beyond Caring at the NT Temporary Theatre, brings the best from a versatile cast – characters with as many motivations and histories as is to be expected from a random assortment of people with one thing in common. Their interactions are so authentic it’s enough to make any audience nervous, and the use of improvisation exercises will certainly have helped with this credibility. The Tressillian company’s aims – “to analyse the contemporary world, and to present recognisable experiences” – have been realised in a production that sheds a bold, bright light on a relatively unexplored phenomenon. It’s an incredibly important dialogue: one that remained ticking through my mind on the way home, when every lit-up screen in the palm of a hand seemed as disturbingly natural as the palm itself.