Friday, March 16, 2018

Review: 'I'd Be Lost Without It' at Stratford Circus Arts Centre, 15th March 2018

I'd Be Lost Without It reviewed by David James
Rating: 3 Stars

Fashionable Luddites drive me up the wall. You can't go five minutes without hearing about the benefits of 'digital detox', how the kids' brains are apparently melting or seeing a rosy-cheeked Guardian columnist touting the benefits of their 'Year Without Wikipedia' or some shit. 

It's symptomatic of a deep-rooted conservatism that fears change: the age-old chestnut of hearkening back to some dimly forgotten golden age where people handwrote letters to each other and looked up facts in dusty encyclopaedias. If the way we think is indeed changing as a result of almost every human on the globe being networked together, who's to say that whatever humanity ends up as won't be an improvement on the disconnected navel-gazers that shuffled along in decades past?

So I was a teeny bit sceptical of Wet Picnic's I'd Be Lost Without It, which posits that "we are increasingly connected with one another and the world around us through technology, and yet feel a sense of disconnection on a human level with ourselves and with one another". To which my instinctive response was that I certainly don't feel disconnected with myself. And what the hell does that even mean anyway?

It sounds like we're in for an hour of finger-wagging gloom, so it's a nice surprise that I'd Be Lost Without It is an upbeat, funny and extremely personable show. The broad concept is not dissimilar to a silent disco: each audience member wears wireless headphones that pipe through the show's narration and score. This is accompanied by the cast (Graeme Cockburn, Alex Bird, Emma Brand, Jack Goldbourne, Grace Lambert and Ana Mirtha) doing a series of dance and clowning routines, physically realising what we're heading.

The audience is divided into three groups,  each group occasionally receiving commands through their headphones. So a third of the crowd might start walking through the space like prowling lions, or perhaps waving their hands in the air (like they just don't care).

There's so much imagination, energy and skill in the choreography and execution of the show that it's very easy to get swept up in it. Each member of the cast has enviably expressive features and they use them to deliver a very entertaining mime show crammed full of interesting moments. Looking around the room during the show, most of the audience had big smiles plastered on their faces: and rightly so.

However, despite being very enjoyable, the argument it makes is frustratingly fuzzy. The show portrays humanity as a species learning to live in symbiosis with digital technology but doesn't offer any real insight of what this might mean other than some superficial behavioural observations. The show notes explain that this is intended to be an analysis of a 'mental health crisis' - yet there's nothing that feels particularly urgent or scary about the world presented here.

I'd Be Lost Without It is fun, but isn't quite as insightful as it could be. Everyone having a device in their pockets putting them in contact with almost everyone on the planet, giving them access to the sum total of humanity's knowledge and, when all that gets boring, lets us  play Monument Valley 2, is a fantastic development for humanity - the realisation of what were wild science fiction dreams just 30 years ago. 

Perhaps what's tripping up this show is that we can't know how we're being changed, how all this is going to end and we can't put the genie back in the bottle. Like the caterpillar waiting to bust open its chrysalis, all we can do is hope for the best.

I'd Be Lost Without It is currently touring. Dates and locations here.

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