I Love You Bro

Herald Theatre, Aotea Centre, The Edge, Auckland

29/07/2011 - 20/08/2011

Production Details


The extraordinary true story of a teenage chat-room junkie and his unyielding desire for love comes to The Herald Theatre from July 29th. Discover the shocking events that unfolded in Manchester, 2003 with Adam Cass’ I Love You Bro, part of Silo Theatre’s “Second Cousin” programme.

Meet the modern boy: a chatroom junkie, remarkably clever but desperately lonely and longing for connection. He’ll spin a web of deceit that will destroy two lives – all for the glory of love. He wants to be someone and online he can become anyone he wants. Identity can be fluid and honesty optional. When he logs in, he begins to live.

But this is not another story in the troubled teen canon. This is the true story of a boy who conspired to have himself murdered. 

The truth is stranger than fiction, they say. In this instance, that phrase has never sounded so amplified. Weaving an intricate tale of sex and spies, 14 year old John convinced his 16 year old friend Mark to kill him – by acting out the roles of a number of aliases.

Having read about this incredible story in Vanity Fair in 2005, Australian playwright Adam J.A Cass sculpted the real life events into a complex one-man-show that has had audiences at both the Edinburgh and Melbourne Fringe shocked and intrigued. 

It’s not just overseas where such an astonishing series of events took place; only recently, the exploits of one Natalia Burgess became public knowledge. The New Zealander took to social networking sites weaving an imaginary life as three different people, affecting the lives of four different men – all who fell in love with one of her many aliases. One of which took his own life.

I Love You Bro marks the launch of Silo Theatre’s “Second Cousin” brand; a counterpoint to the main-bill repertoire Second Cousin work will be immediate, risky and pattern-breaking. Expect new theatrical adventures, readings and reconfigurations – works from a new generation of theatre makers at a pocket friendly price. 

Director Sophie Roberts has become one of the leading young lights in the theatre scene of New Zealand, with both her directorial and acting credits. One of the founders of Almost A Bird Theatre Collective , she made her acclaimed star turn as Adolf Hitler’s personal assistant in Wolf’s Lair.

This production also marks the second time this year Roberts will be directing Tim Carlsen after their season of One Day Moko at The Basement. I Love You Bro marks Carlsen’s debut with Silo Theatre, ahead of the company’s final show of the year (Tartuffe). Carlsen a graduate of Toi Whakaari, has spent a great deal of time developing his own work, One Day Moko, which has taken him to New York to work with the hallowed troupe The Wooster Group. 

Two emerging talents from the Toi Whakaari dynasty and a production that will challenge audiences to think differently about the ‘online’ realm. This is vital viewing for Mum, Dad and the teens. 

I Love You, Bro is well worth the price of a ticket. It is socially relevant…compulsory viewing….” ABC BRISBANE 

“…an utterly successful, vital piece of true theatre.  Go see.” – FRINGEREVIEW.CO.UK 

July 29 – August 20th 2011 (TWENTYSOMETHING performance – August 1st)
OPEN DIALOGUE: August 16th, post performance
Herald Theatre, THE EDGE
Tickets: $25.00 – $35.00 (service fees apply)
Tickets available through THE EDGE – www.buytickets.co.nz or 09 357 3355  

Johnny                                    TIM CARLSEN

production design                 JANE HAKARAIA
                                                 SEAN LYNCH

production management     ANDREW MALMO
stage management                STACEY DONALDSON
technical operation               STUART PHILLIPS
set construction                     2 CONSTRUCT
scenic painting                       RENEE TE PAIRI

graphic design                        CONCRETE
production photography      PATRICK REYNOLDS
                                                   ANDREW MALMO
publicity                                   ELEPHANT PUBLICITY 

Tale of chat room fantasy rooted in reality

Review by Paul Simei-Barton 03rd Aug 2011

The make-believe world which is cyberspace encourages bizarre behaviour 
 The first offering from Silo Theatre’s second-cousin programme emphatically delivers on its promise of edgy and engaging theatre. I Love You Bro plunges us into the underworld of internet chat rooms where we follow a teenager’s retreat into a virtual world and witness how an innocent pastime spirals into dangerous obsession.

Much of the frisson comes from knowing the story is based on real events. In 2003, while investigating a brutal stabbing, Manchester police uncovered a bizarre conspiracy involving a 14-year-old boy who had planted an elaborate network of fictional characters in internet chat rooms and conned a naive acquaintance into believing they were real people. [More
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True cautionary tale disturbs and stretches credulity

Review by Nik Smythe 30th Jul 2011

While this twisted tale dramatised by a Melbourne playwright is based on an actual occurrence in Manchester some years ago, actor Tim Carlsen plays the protagonist as a Kiwi. It does seem appropriate to cast the character in the nationality of wherever it’s being performed, given the cybernetic medium at its basis makes it a story that could take place anywhere that has internet. 

It begins when fourteen-year-old Johnny, escaping his abusive stepfather and avoiding his well-meaning but frustratingly pathetic mother, retires to his room and escapes into the virtual world of MSN chat. Catching up with and/or avoiding his nerd friends and chatroom acquaintances, the convoluted litany of lies ensues, innocently at first with a chance online encounter with the local high school rugby ‘golden boy’ who goes by the handle Marky Mark.

Clearly the real-life lad the play is based on was an unusually complex, quietly irrational individual that would be a major stretch for any actor his actual age to portray. Johnny’s knack for (somehow) convincing, often improvised fraudulence is matched by a poetic flair; particularly evident in the way he narrates his often amusing, ultimately horrific story of “how I became something!”  

With his chat persona ‘Alba.J’ mistaken for a girl by Mark, at first he plays it up for laughs but the prank soon escalates to something more calculated and ambitious as the real Johnny becomes infatuated with his new friend. Eventually it all balloons into a convoluted web of elaborate lies that Johnny can’t find a means to reconcile without abandoning his pursuit of Mark, which he simply won’t do. His denial of being any kind of ‘fag’ seems genuine inasmuch as he’s clearly confused and deluded rather than wilfully deceiving.   

Directed by Sophie Roberts, Carlsen’s performance is charming and versatile enough that we are easily drawn into his story, which takes place over approximately six months. As he’s not a very believable fourteen year old, I’m led to infer that he’s now grown up and recounting his tale with the benefit of distance and hindsight. 

There is no hero in this story. Adam Cass’s script may seem to be celebrating Johnny’s ingenuity and audacity to some degree, but it ultimately plays out as a disturbing cautionary tale, warning of the most extreme consequences of disillusioned, impressionable youth immersing themselves in cyberspace.

Production design team Jane Hakaraia and Sean Lynch’s minimal set consists of one door and one chair, upon a platform in a hole in the ground, which lights up every time Johnny ‘goes private’ with Mark in any of his increasing numbers of bogus personae. All else around is dark except when stark side-lighting causes large ominous shadow effects that punctuate the sense of perverse fantasy borne from adolescent desperation.

I’m unsure how much artistic license Cass has taken but there are a couple of seeming anomalies such as the chat handles – Why does a teenaged boy use the name Alba.J? … And how does he even know who (80s white rapper aka Mark Wahlberg) Marky Mark is? Certain other aspects strain plausibility further, e.g. whilst ‘Alba.J’ had no webcam, surely she could at the least have posted a pic online for Marky to see her? If this was a work of fiction – indeed, it typifies the proverbial ‘stranger than’ expression; these issues would need addressing for credulity. 

As it is though, assuming the general facts are accurate it merely shows up the gullibility of Mark, and gives an uneasy illustration of just how easy it can be for a comparatively sheltered adolescent to get taken in – in this case by an even younger, less ‘experienced’ one. 

[Link to Vanity Fair article.]

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