I am on my way to Warwick Arts Centre, the venue for tonight’s performance of ‘Weaklings’ by Chris Goode and Company. I am greeted by the following sign when I arrive: ‘‘Weaklings’ performance contains scenes of a sexual nature and content that some viewers may find disturbing’. I can’t wait! I don’t leave the house for anything less.
As I enter the theatre, a 3D projection of a desk fan blows whilst pleasant ambient music plays. Barely visible in the dim lights, a young man lies naked on the floor. Thanks for the press comp. Front row seats. As the performance begins, the lights dim even further and reveal a woman working on computer, seated on a raised platform.
The dialogue comes thick and fast. With direct references to the neurotic scribblings of artist and critic Dennis Cooper, it becomes clear that he (played by Karen Christopher) is the author of a very particular blog. She eulogises of the details of online interaction. Simultaneously, projections appear on the multiple screens that form the structure within which the young man lies. He awakens and begins to prance hypnotically, homo-erotically around the room.
What follows is some of the most imaginative theatre I have ever seen. Clever use of video streaming from laptops and phones enable the audience to get a ‘web cam view’ of the performers as they speak. As the narrative progresses, characters started to develop and emerge. The blog author with the voice of authority, the sexy French model/muse, the day-dreaming English schoolboy and the jaded writer addicted to posting comments.
Content from the blog is explored through both the post’s author and the response from the site’s somewhat forlorn community (both real and fictionalised). Subtly, the performance takes a turn for the surreal. Criticism of mass media is approached with a wry sense of humour with hilarious outcomes. At one point, a list of the top ten cartoon characters is read out, with Little John from ‘Robin Hood’ being described as the most “overt reference to homosexuality” in all of Disney’s animations. All the while, the performance is strategically accompanied up by a spectacular soundtrack, somewhere between Massive Attack and the soundtrack to ‘Donnie Darko’.
The pop culture references came think and fast. Following a video of the anarchic Michael Alig of New York’s Club Kids, the narrative dissolves into detached musings by the four characters (despite the muse being mute), who interact with each other voyeuristically by taking candid videos. The interactions have references to extreme violence or sexual practices, perfectly capturing the complexities of the inherent darker aspects of submission and power games within the simulated reality of the internet.
The performance was a masterful exercise in direction and set design. At one point, the muse lays out a beautiful arrangement of small red lights around the stage, which in the low light look like the many points on a network, perfectly actualising the de-centralised structure of the internet. At another point the school boy turns his smart phone camera on to the audience - whether to reverse the gaze or to take a selfie, we shall never know.