Edinburgh Festivals Magazine

Review: Surveillance at The Space

Review: Surveillance at The Space
3★★★

Jack Jackman writes, directs and performs in this production of three short plays that explore the loss of privacy in the digital age. It’s a rich seam to explore, and a heroic effort to perform all three roles, but it comes at a fatal cost: the writing is underdeveloped, the performers struggle, and the direction is flat.

Of the three, it is the second play that works best. This is a sketch that plays out the deadly relationship between a new user, a lonely man, and a rapacious social media site. As the personification of facebook’s user interface, Alyssa Meugo gives the stand-out performance of the show. She switches from hostess to match-maker to treacherous girlfriend with dizzying speed. The language is machine-tooled to precision and delivered with hungry gusto. And she gets that this is theatre, for a live audience. She scours the audience for random ‘new friends’ for the hapless user, and the comedy stretches its high wire across the chasms of anxiety and guilt that are at the heart of Jackman’s message.

But the other plays – for all the intellectual wit on display – don’t rise from the page. The longest piece is about an estranged homosexual relationship between two university professors who unleash chaos on campus when one introduces compulsory ID recognition by means of a subcutaneous chip. The premise is great, but what might have been a rich field for comedy is reduced to a talking shop by characters who don’t involve us, and are merely the mouthpiece for ideas.

This is a shame, as you can see that Jackman has the full toolkit of the proper farceur at his disposal: the misogyny, the perception of people as social types, the wordy wit and a relish for embarrassing situations. But he has not given himself the chance to create characters we care about or drama that sweeps us along. The show might have worked as a sequence of much shorter sketches, like a student revue, but Jackman’s ambition seems greater and I applaud it even if I can’t see it yet. There may yet be a brilliant dramatist in him – a Ben Travers for the digital age – about to hatch.  Here’s hoping.

Surveillance, Anomaly Theatre, until 24th Aug, 9.50pm