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The Collab by Lauren Morley at The Space Theatre

Predatory behaviour towards women has been around since at least the sixth century BC: the rape of Lucretia, a noblewoman in ancient Rome, and her subsequent suicide, were contributing factors to the end of the Roman Kingdom and the establishment of the Roman Republic. Fast forward to 2022: Johnny Depp (mostly) won his defamation court case against Amber Heard – the jury found that they defamed one another, though he was awarded $10.35m and she $2 million. There will almost certainly be an appeal by Heard’s lawyers.

The Collab - Aequitas Theatre
The Collab – Aequitas Theatre. Photo by Paddy Gormley.

Ella Blair (Louise Lord) is one of those social media influencers who regularly posts videos that are uploaded to – well, the internet: the production is careful not to name specific online platforms, but it would appear it isn’t one that deletes content containing nudity. There’s a (sort of) subplot in which Max Jessup (Andre Frey) ponders on quite how prudish previous generations were in reality, given how many paintings from centuries ago contain nudity or partial nudity, though, as Kat Daniels (Maria Eastwood) points out, he and his assistant Brett Taylor (Clark Alexander) go about making their line of argument in a rather puerile manner.

Max, who has been an influencer for some time, is adored by Ella, who accepts an invitation to pop around and replicate the pose in a painting, ostensibly for a university project: Max’s course isn’t exactly philosophy, politics and economics at the University of Oxford. But here, as in other narrative points, Ella has made the final decision as to which pose from which painting she was happy to copy, which makes this story about manipulation and coercive control far from straightforward. It also makes it credible, and Ella recognises, with the benefit of hindsight, her own role in events.

The show makes good use of technology, incorporating instant messaging and mobile telephony, with the transitions between scenes as well as between recorded video and on-stage dialogue being smooth. In the opening scenes, some of Kat’s lines are difficult to decipher, for the simple reason that she’s talking and eating at the same time. It brought to mind a 2005 advertisement campaign by the fast-food chain KFC, which had people singing with their mouths full, and precipitated a large number of complaints to the Advertising Standards Authority.

Still projections inform the audience precisely how many people subscribe to Ella’s ‘channel’, and indeed to Max’s, at various points in time. Some in the audience at the performance I attended seemed riveted by the numbers, and how they related to the storyline. It’s entirely possible there were external factors not even in the narrative that could have had an impact – I am, by today’s standards, far from tech-savvy, but even I know there are people on TikTok who can explain the second law of thermodynamics in about as much time as it takes their counterparts on YouTube to tell people who already like and subscribe to their channel to like and subscribe to their channel.

Influencers, or at least the ones featured in this play, are irritatingly smiley on camera. It’s no wonder Kat struggles to maintain a straight face when Ella invites her to join in one of her video updates. Kat also tries repeatedly to warn Ella about Max’s conduct and behaviour, but Max also has charm and powers of persuasion, so Ella isn’t convinced. When others attempt to warn her via comments posted to a feed on her online platform, she is dismissive, wondering why people are writing about Max when her latest output is about herself.

Ella turns out to be quite remarkable, moving on from a failed relationship after a hiatus away from producing online content (quelle surprise, her subscriber count falls due to a lack of updates) with level-headedness and pragmatism about the future. The narrative isn’t entirely watertight but there is much to think about in a production that tackles some pertinent issues in contemporary society with frankness and sensitivity.

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

Ella Blair is a rising star in the online video scene. Together with the help of her friend, Kat Daniels, a budding fashion photographer, Ella’s building a platform around sustainable fashion. When an opportunity arises to “collab” with superstar influencer Max Jessup on his latest video art project, Ella jumps headlong into it… but at what cost?

Cast
LOUISE LORD as Ella
ANDRE FREY as Max
MARIA EASTWOOD as Kat
CLARK ALEXANDER as Brett

Creatives
LAUREN MORLEY Writer
RACHAEL BELLIS Director
LATANYA PETERKIN Producer
CONSTANCE VILLEMOT Set Designer
ELLEN KRUGER Sound Designer
KERI CHESSER Assistant Sound Designer
ANIKA MOORE Costume Designer
GEEKYN8 Graphic Design

Aequitas Theatre Company presents
The Collab
by Lauren Morley
Tuesday 31 May to Saturday 11 June 2022

The Space Theatre
269 Westferry Rd, London E14 3RS
Box office: www.space.org.uk

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