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2b or nt 2b / 4 Billion Likes!
Written and Directed by Sarah Delahunty
A Youth Theatre Double-Bill
proudly presented by 1st Gear Productions and Circa Theatre

at Circa Two, Wellington
From 17 May 2014 to 1 Jun 2014
[2hrs 5mins, incl. interval]

Reviewed by John Smythe, 18 May 2014

It's six years since Sarah Delahunty and her 1st Gear Productions won Pick of the Fringe and a Chapman Tripp Theatre Awards Best New Play nomination with 2b or nt 2b. I said back then that it“needs to be everywhere” (did it really only have three performances?) and now I feel it needs to be adapted as a digital film and at least sold to all NZ Secondary schools if not distributed world-wide.

In the process of characterising five classical heroines and Hamlet in contemporary txt-generation terms, 2b or nt 2b confronts the phenomenon of teenage suicide head-on. As such it would be an invaluable resource in the curriculum.

The play opens with a group-delivered paean to melancholic despair; to the terrible emptiness all six characters share. We are then made privy to their varying states of solitary misery, before fate – in the guise of a chat room – brings them all together on The Bridge to Nowhere.

Shakespeare's disaffected Hamlet (Michael Trigg) calls a Help Line to put his all-consuming question and the automated response – “To help me direct your call, please tell me what you're calling about” – precipitates painfully comical results.

Sophocles' Antigone (Sylvie McCreanor), daughter or Oedipus and traumatically burdened by her family history, is equally unimpressed when she's put on hold to the strains of ‘What the World Needs Now is Love Sweet Love'.

From Chekhov's The Seagull, Masha the emo (Neenah Dekkers-Reihana) is “in mourning for [her] life” as she keeps vigil at her laptop, waiting for Konstantin to log on to Facebook while ignoring boring Medavenko's persistent texts.

Feeling lost in a metaphysical forest, the ardent Helena (Georgie Sivier) from Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream, in unrequited love with Demetrius, fears dope has addled her brain.

When Chekhov's Irena (Alice Orchard), from Three Sisters, seeks a solution to wasting her life away in Foxton when it's all happening in New York, the Help Desk person asks, “Have you tried turning it off and on?”

All are feeling alone and alienated until Ibsen's Hedda (Bronwyn Ensor), in a bid to gain power at last over her own destiny and that of others, appoints herself Head Girl of the chat-room.

Much fun is had with their online aliases. As Hedda tries to align them to her final solution, compulsively appropriating Hamlet's best lines in the process, the competition as to whose life is the most tragic – they each get one minute to tell their story – is darkly and insightfully hilarious.

All six actors capture the ideal tone and cadence for their character and sustain it to the less-bitter-than-expected end, almost. Only in the last few minutes do they liberate themselves from their stuck positions, despite Hedda's wielding of the lethal weapon Ibsen bestowed upon her.

As well as offering brilliant entertainment for all age-groups, 2b or nt 2b is a very important play that really does have the power to make a difference to its target audience.

Anna Lowe and Russell Nelson's set design of silver-grey plastic pallets arranged in various configurations, including for the second play, works well along with Lydia Easter's lighting design. Bright-coloured soft furnishings are added for 4 Billion Likes, to evoke the bedroom of young Hamilton blogger Chloe Anderson.

Starting with Chloe singing her naïve and original song ‘Who Am I?' in an X Factor-style talent quest, this is a rite-of-passage / coming-of-age story. A wonderfully accomplished performance by Neenah Dekkers-Reihana tracks how the hyperactive and somewhat ditzy Chloe comes to lift her sights to a horizon beyond her weight, hair style and becoming famous, not to mention a boy called Jamie, to focus on a bigger and less self-centred picture.

Much humour is gleaned en route from Chloe's limited world view and Lynn of Tawa-like Malapropisms. And Dekkers-Reihana' singing of the songs she composed (lyrics co-written by Delahunty) is superb, not least in its depicting of Chloe's lesser skills. 

It's her much-referenced Aunty who has suggested she write her thoughts down in a diary (for which read blog) just in case – like Einstein's – they turn out to be important one day. Events at school when Chloe was 6, involving boys ‘being boys', a girl called Bernice and an implicit peer group pressure not to tell, have proved formative and more significant than she realised at the time. It takes events at a teenage party, what happens to a friend called Jade, and the consequent responses of her Aunty, to finally raise Chloe's consciousness.

The title refers to the number of women and girls in the world, and Chloe's fantasy they might all read her blog and ‘like' it. She may still be naïve but at least her boundless energy is now directed in a more humane way.

While 4 Billion Likes is simpler and less multi-dimensional than 2b or nt 2b, its message to its target audience is equally important. As a solo show, it should be entirely feasible for it to tour high schools and (without knowing what 1st Gear Productions has in mind) I hope it does.


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See also reviews by:
 Ewen Coleman [Reproduced with permission of Fairfax Media] (The Dominion Post);