The narrator’s voice in I’d Be Lost Without It is so calm and collected that I waited and waited for something in the show to turn nasty. Some critical incident or other is, I thought to myself, going to occur at some point, and the smiley faces and upbeat atmosphere will give way to something else. Fortunately or unfortunately the wait was in vain, and the ‘seminar’ which began serenely ended in a celebration, with the performance space littered with balloons and confetti.
Hip, hip, hooray, the show ends happily. But given what the play tries to achieve, taking the form of a sort of crash course in how to thrive in the digital era, the darker side of social media activity was treated too briefly, almost as an afterthought tagged on to the final moments of the play. Otherwise, whenever an image was shown to the audience, it would be a ‘meme’ or a picture highly unlikely to cause offence to anyone but the most paranoid or irrational. To really display the balance of what’s out there, however, is not possible. A completely different show, The Believers Are But Brothers, in which audience members are helped by front of house to join a WhatsApp group in order to get maximum benefit out of proceedings, points out that there are legal (let alone ethical) constraints.
There are four main topics to be covered in the ‘seminar’ – I insist on the quotation marks as the show never feels dry or overly academic. In no particular order, the subjects to be considered are love, procreation, knowledge and nourishment – and how to go about experiencing them through technology. I am led to believe the source for choosing these topics, as opposed to others which could have been included, is a 2017 ‘TED Talk’ by Professor Scott Galloway, on the faculty of the NYU Stern School of Business. The talk, which even the TED website describes as more of a ‘rant’, is cumbersomely called ‘How Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google manipulate our emotions’.
If certain elements in the show were rather random, such is the nature of the online experience – someone with a bit of downtime and in a Wi-fi hotspot could be scrolling through a social media platform and looking at almost anything. I’ve had a quick look through one of my own ‘feeds’ in order to provide an example. There’s a review of a touring production, a photo of the winners of the Canary Wharf Sports Personality of the Year Awards (year unknown), and an exchange of views about what a panellist said during an episode of BBC Television’s ‘Question Time’. Nothing unequivocally connects those things, except they are all on the same webpage, and only at the time of writing.
Some of the characters are named during the show, but not in the programme: I will keep faith with the latter. This being an ‘immersive’ performance, there’s a degree of audience participation. There’s no fourth wall to break, because no fourth wall was put up in the first place. The format of the show, ironically, given the many examples out there about people who indulge in mobile phone activity whilst a show is in progress, meant I paradoxically had the rarity of enjoying a show devoid of interruptions from phone users.
It’s a tad too repetitive: a running gag about the location of the cast’s mobile phone stopped being funny after its third outing, and there were more to come. (Absurdly, the company has, for the purposes of the gag, one phone between them.) But it’s also mercifully short, and it’s warm and inviting nature makes the banality forgivable – I never did get what all that wrist-shaking was meant to actually achieve. Which begs another question. Why does the audience so readily accept their instructions and carry them out without fuss?
An intriguing play performed with great aplomb by an enthusiastic company, this is immersive theatre as it should be, passionate and inspiring.
Review by Chris Omaweng
We all exist somewhere online, whether we know it or not: a virtual trace, an online persona, a trail of clicks and searches laying claim to who we are. I’d Be Lost Without It explores our 21st century addiction to technology, where our hunger for likes and shares is distancing us from ourselves and one another, in an age when at least 27 hours each week are spent online.
Using headphones, binaural sound and immersive theatre, Wet Picnic create an interactive experience
which explores the utopia and dystopia of our tech-driven existence. Working in collaboration with a
psychologist to extract real life experiences, the show shines a light on our modern world and question
what keeps us human in an age increasingly lived online.
I’d Be Lost Without It
February 23rd – March 16th, UK Tour
London Press Night: March 15th , 7pm, Stratford Circus