Lizzie Conrad Hughes
Bloggers is a curious show, reflecting a new, and it would seem growing, strand in popular culture of “verbatim theatre”. With no specific writer in charge, it takes real-life weblogs and brings them to the stage in a rather convoluted life-imitating-art-imitating-life nexus.
An intriguing conceit, but ultimately one that leaves me with some concerns about the direction this “new theatre” might take us in.
The premise is straightforward. The play’s “creator” (as opposed to “writer” or “director”) has trawled the net looking for the most interesting (read eccentric) blogs, tidied them up (no doubt) and got a cast of five talented actors to bring them to life. They include an agoraphobic sex chat-line operator, a nerd in a dressing gown whose girlfriend has left him and an Oliver Reed-esque fellow who swings both ways and enjoys revealing his sexual liaisons in full graphic detail.
Like the phenomenon it mirrors, whether it works for the audience member or not is a personal matter. It has been written somewhere that those who keep a diary are basically lonely, as the diary is the conversation they would be having with a close or intimate friend that they end up having with themselves. This is not a psychology lesson, of course, just a theatre review, but my resistance to reading or hearing about the minutiae of peoples’ lives, be they humdrum, bawdy or loathsome, may well have contributed to my lack of enjoyment of the show’s “narrative”.
The issue I have with the “play”, if it can be accurately described thus, is not in the confessional element, however; it is in the move away from theatre as a unifying experience, one capable of bringing insight into all matters human. Bloggers is essentially a fragmenting experience: amusing as any one of these “characters” may be (and they are occasionally very amusing), like reading many blogs online, there are only one or two things you can draw from the experience. One is that people have odd personal lives. Another is that hearing about those personal lives is a little voyeuristic. All fairly obvious stuff.
Therein, for me, lies the work’s weakness. While the excellent cast bring these people vividly to life, they are ultimately not doing much other than being slightly more eccentric reality TV participants. Entering the world of the blog, one enters a universe populated by a thousand self-obsessed individuals who wish to share their peccadilloes with a million strangers. Whatever else Bloggers is, it is not the crafted work of a writer trying to take us on a journey of discovery about ourselves or other people. All we really discover from it is that there aren’t half some weirdos out there.
In some ways, then, this feels like a missed opportunity by a talented company to create a world of fiction around the blogging phenomemenon. The artifice of bringing all the bloggers on stage at the end to say they are ending their blogs is just that – artificial and not entirely convincing. There are many “plays” based around blogs at the Fringe this year. I sincerely hope that there is not a tide of unwritten writing on the horizon, turning the imaginative world of the theatre into the flat world of “unscripted drama” before the decade is out.