Keep Watching begins with two surveillance experts slouched in front of a CCTV screen, monitoring activity in public spaces. We can see by their death-like expressions that this is a boring job. Then suddenly it’s their lucky night. Their bodies jerk with excitement as they witness a bag snatch live onscreen and, with their direct-line contact to law enforcement, steer police to the perpetrator. Job done, they high-five each other when the criminal is apprehended.
A&E nurse Kat, the victim of the bag snatch (Beatrice Scirocchi), is deeply grateful that someone was looking out for her when the theft took place and welcomes the intrusion of surveillance. It seems the watchful eye of Big Brother has its merits when you are single, feeling vulnerable, and alone. So begins the relationship between Jo (Luyanda Unati Lewis-Nyawo) – who says she works free-lance as a surveillance expert – and Kat, a millennial 20-something.
Soon into the drama, it is obvious that Keep Watching is not so much about surveillance but about the disappointing aspects of human relationships, most evident in Kat’s interactions with her brother, Zak (George Evans), portrayed as a lying, selfish manipulator. Life is also bleak in the workplace, with Kat suffering a stream of horrific abuse from NHS patients in the emergency room.
Quite unexpectedly, and especially in these times of ferocious political correctness, Kat’s exercise instructor, Megan (George Evans), is portrayed as a narcissistic, flamboyant gay male with Julian Clary mannerisms and a penchant for cruelty. Somehow I thought we’d gone past this image of gay men, but Keep Watching proves me wrong.
The play is also replete with too many references to millennial lifestyles – now a boring pastiche of 21st-century life, as well as a wink to famous clips from old movies – which don’t quite work. Think of the 1970s film Network, the scene where newscaster Peter Finch instructs his viewers to open the window and shout: “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore”, or musicals where character’s break into song. I’m not sure why the play’s repetitive use of the 1933 song All of Me, is deliberately sung off key, but it adds nothing to the drama.
Having said all this, the set design is spectacular (Sarah Beaton), a simple black and white geometric that conveys the repetition of everyday life. Dominic Kennedy’s sound design and Bethany Gupwell’s lighting design, work brilliantly as co-ordinates to remind us that surveillance is what Keep Watching is supposed to be about.
I wish I could be more positive about this play, as it is a multi-layered undertaking for director Simon Lyshon, as well as for playwright Jesse Fox, who has created a strong, complex character in Jo, so beautifully embodied by Beatrice Scirocchi.
It is also a very physical play for its three actors, and difficult for Luyanda Unati Lewis-Nyawo and George Evans who take on multiple roles. This is at the expense of truly embracing each of their main characters: Jo and Zak.
So what is it that Keep Watching is attempting to depict? Is it the wasteland of existence, or the intrusion of modern surveillance techniques? It approaches the first with passion and a powerful message – we misuse our own lives – then turns it into a public service announcement about how to keep ourselves safe.
Review by Loretta Monaco
Kat is being watched.
She knows about most of it. She ticked the box to say she’d read the terms and conditions. She accepted the cookies. She even opted in to receive occasional emails.
But someone else is watching too. Someone who knows her better than she knows herself.
Based on first-hand accounts from surveillance experts Keep Watching is a cinematic thriller about watching and being watched from award-winning theatre collective Engineer.
CAST AND CREATIVE TEAM
Cast: George Evans, Beatrice Scirocchi & Luyanda Unati Lewis-Nyawo
Director Simon Lyshon
Assistant Director Gustavo Dias-Ballejo
Writer & Dramaturgy Jesse Fox
Design Sarah Beaton
Lighting Design Bethany Gupwell
Sound Design Dom Kennedy
Stage Manager Andie Dew
Production Manager Tanya Stephenson
Producer Daisy Hale
New Diorama Theatre,
15 – 16 Triton Street,
London, NW1 3BF
Tuesday 2 April – Saturday 4 May 2019