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Living in a viral world

by John Maguire
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Oh Monday, Monday, Monday, I think somebody has been telling you lies. You see it’s not November yet, it’s July. My thoughts on the charcoal grey wet invasion at the beginning of this week, definitely not the stuff that make a summer’s day. On my way to the theatre after work, I kept my sanity by listening to Grace Jones. Her tune ‘Walking in the Rain’ played in my ear as I was trying to manoeuvre along the road, avoiding splash-back by angry car drivers. Ironically, I was going to see the first show in this year’s Shiny New Festival at the home of fringe, the Lantern Theatre, Liverpool. Yet, the only thing shiny so far was the petroleum puddles on the potholed roads.

I love the graffiti that springs up around Liverpool and I was greeted by some simple Liverpudlian philosophy at the top of Bold Street that did force a smile on my frowning face.



I don’t really watch a lot of television preferring to try and catch live events. The Lantern is a venue that delivers experimental, provocative and – most importantly – entertaining theatre. Thankfully, the atmosphere inside the venue that night was a hell of a lot brighter than the weather. The Lantern was buzzing and rammed full of people. Good theatre is at its best when it is relevant and rooted in the now. The festival’s opener was such a piece. Follow/Unfollow by Andrew Rimmer and directed by Pete Mitchelson chronicles the onscreen, off-screen antics of a plastic internet sensation.



Shallow vlogger Ryan Marten has a legion of dedicated fans from his social media feed, playing on his looks rather than talent. His manager, Dee, wants to make a new star of thoughtful fan Chloe, who is tired of Ryan’s sponsorship deals. The trouble is Chloe never sought fame. The hour-long play is an tense analysis of the annoying and vapid Ryan. Young fan Chloe grows to believe that she has more to offer and we witness her transformation from angry teenager to something else.

Viral fame, I would not wish it on my worst enemy!

Ryan Marten as himself reminded me of Peter Andre, for he had the same air of self-importance as that ‘star’. An excellent character portrayal that radiated a narcissistic self-love that was disgusting and ridiculous. The play opens with three screens on a bare stage, playing a montage of clips from the famed vlogger’s YouTube post. Placing the screens in isolation, out of the usual environment you would find them in, emphasises the crassness and absurdity of the clips. A techno triptych that highlights the fact the video footage is actually rubbish. When the clips are played back-to-back on a loop it is somewhat torturous. Exactly how I feel having to watch X Factor or any of the other reality TV nonsense.

The fusion of live action and prerecorded clips of Ryan – and his sycophantic fans, the Rylos – is used economically throughout and emphasises the stark difference between reality and online representations of the self. Around 20 years ago, the acclaimed writer, Dennis Potter saw the dangers of the public and the private blurring into one,

The mind and the culture, increasingly dominated, in a sociological sense by a widening technology, increasing media activity, the possibility of the public and the private collapsing into each other and of the public being defined entirely in commercial terms? It represents a really advanced shift in human culture. There was a time when you could shut out that world simply by shutting your front door, but of course that’s no longer even remotely the case.

– Potter on Potter, 1993.

What is interesting in this play is how it captures the need for validation and how easy people can become, as my brother puts it, a ‘like whore’: someone who only posts status updates to see how many likes are generated. With the disease of modern celebrity that vomits up the Kadarshians and Jordan, I do find myself yearning for old-school Hollywood Glamour, mystique and class, like that possessed by Bette Davis, Joan Crawford and Katherine Hepburn. People who worked damn hard to earn their fame and to keep it. French icon Catherine Deneuve commented recently at Cannes,

There are no longer any stars, It’s the social networks that prevent people from dreaming any more about stars. Their private life is displayed constantly on social networks; and some even post private pictures of themselves. I find it a pity. Being a star entails glamour and secrecy; it’s hard to keep a degree of mystery nowadays.

Follow/Unfollow is an uncomfortable piece to watch as the world depicted is a mirror to the society we inhabit. A world of connectivity that allows us to reach people all over the world, but as much as it makes it a smaller place, the distance between people and reality is becoming increasingly bigger.

The Shiny New Festival runs until 2 August.
Follow/Unfollow will transfer to The Space@Surgeons Hall Theatre 2: 24-29 August 1.00 pm, Edinburgh

Follow/Unfollow by Andrew Rimmer.
Directed by Pete Mitchelson.
Starring Jay Podmore, Leanne Martin and Lily Shepherd.
With Ryan Marten as himself.

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