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Print Version

NZ Fringe Festival 2013
Written and Directed by Adam Goodall
Produced by Johnny Crawford
presented by The Making Friends Collective

at Gryphon, Wellington
From 19 Feb 2013 to 23 Feb 2013

Reviewed by John Smythe, 20 Feb 2013

While the 21st century's ‘angry young man' wrestles with the timeless issues of working out who he is, what to do with his life and how to find someone to share it with, he turns to cyberspace for help. Or hindrance.

Playwright / director Adam Goodall's programme note reveals it was his bruising experiences on the ‘Something Awful' internet forums that inspired Rageface, but he has had the sense to tie that in to a simple, if prosaic, narrative structure that compares and contrasts the virtual with the real, thus enriching our perception of both. And it's always good to prove again that the more things change the more they stay the same.

The challenge of representing the internet live on stage (a stage being shared by others during the Fringe) is ingeniously met by set designer Jen Eccles' marked out cyber network where people communicate via tin cans on string (also used in A Play About Space: primitive childhood games referenced to accentuate the notion of play?).

Ranging through obsessions with idealised ‘Magical Girl' anime and Ninja esoterica to battling a challenge from an upstart ‘My Little Pony' forum, the online world is effectively evoked. (Forgive me if I have the details wrong here; it's hard to specify what is clearly an impressionistic melange.)

Projections (designed by Ben Moore), in a rudimentary pixelated font, count us down to some big event four days out, and also help to locate the hyper-action and jumble of words – variously profound and profane; serious and sarcastic; vain and vacuous; earnestly contributory and aggressively destructive – in whichever online forum the lead character, Jason (password: Sherlock*) is logged into at any given time.

The cacophony of interactions, where what is delivered by multiple keyboards is here vocalised, certainly evokes the experience of multitasking in cyberspace (a state I know well, though not via forums), so that a simple meeting between Andrew Clarke's Jason – super confident online; socially awkward in the real world – and Alice Pierce's more centred video store attendant, Brie, comes as a relief, albeit pregnant with danger as well as possibility.

Even though the staging has them back-to-back when they have the ‘date' the countdown has presaged, presumably to suggest non-communication or their still being in their own worlds, both Pearce and Clarke (also co-director) ground the play in credibly real-life characters in such scenes.

With a bit less range to work with, Kesava Beaney, as flatmate Liam, reflects other people's views of Jason and his temperament. By contrast we tend to get Jason's subjective impression of his workmate Pierce (Ash James) and his boss (Jen Eccles) at his soul-destroying supermarket job.  

Of course his ‘friends' in cyberspace are, by comparison, ethereal cyborgs of their own invention, so they don't have to have more than one dimension, although it is more interesting when they do.  

Jackson Wood's Noni is a strong presence as the forum ‘newbie' who gains increasing traction. Lydia Buckley's Madrugada (her username, presumably) seems to yearn for ‘Sherlock' from afar and is given to ending her posts with emoticons. Aaron Pyke, credited as ‘The Bros', trawls as a troll given to ‘doxing' (a new one on me but the context makes its meaning clear).  

Flinn Gendall's compositions and sound design add excellent texture as the whole cast in ensemble mode manifest the mental morass of Jason mind, all but lost in cyberspace. Does the ‘real world' have a chance? You'll have to see it to find out.

The Making Friends Collective (the latest to be spawned from Victoria University's theatre courses) promises to be around for a while and Goodall hopes Rageface will prove to be “the start of something pretty neat”. Whether this play is developed further or they move on to something else, they have certainly caught my eye.
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*While ‘Sherlock' is identified as Jason's password it seems more like his username to me, given people keep calling him that and that when he plays about with various new identities, he changes it. 
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