Thursday, January 30, 2020

Review: 'Something Awful' at Vault Festival, 29th January 2020

Reviewed by David James
Rating: 2 Stars

There is no way I was going to pass up seeing a show called Something Awful. The title of the play is derived from a dinosauric comedy website and internet forum. Once upon a time the site was on the cutting edge of online comedy. Now it's slowly dying, having transitioned into a safe space for depressed middle-aged men to swap Simpsons memes, pose as Third World Maoists and hold purposefully contrary views on Star Wars. 

Though the site has bubbled away at the obscure corners of popular culture for two decades, its biggest contribution to date (aside from maybe dril) is Slender Man. Created as part of a contest to create paranormal images, the spooky character transcended the site and went viral, spawning movies and games.

It was all fun and games until two twelve-year-old Wisconsin schoolgirls took Slender Man a touch too seriously and attempted to stab their friend to death with a kitchen knife. Now Tatty Hennessy has taken that story, transplanted it to the UK and given it a psychosexual spin.

Here our characters are Jel (Monica Anne), Soph (Natalya Martin) and Ellie (Melissa Parker). They're into spooky stories online, finding themselves attracted to a creepypasta thread on Something Awful. The site is described as one of the most vicious places online, where the comments are impossibly cruel and the posters depraved gore-hungry lunatics.

At first, the girls won't even register to post, fearful of the reactions their contributions might receive. But slowly they get drawn in, with a mysterious tale of a supernatural homicidal woodsman striking very close to home. They're lost in the story, and their only way out... is murder!

Thing is, much of Something Awful isn't really about the supernatural at all. Instead, it seems to be a coming-of-age story in which young girls explore their sexuality and self-image. The non-horror scenes that get to grips with this are the best things in the play, with the highlight a sleepover where one girl has her first period and the others attempt to assist her in inserting a tampon.  I don't know what the hell teenage girls actually speak about these days, but the dialogue rings true and all three actors are very believable as 13-year olds.

But squeezing all this into an hour means that what should be the core story of the girls developing a deadly obsession with spooky stories online gets squeezed into the margins. What I'd think would be the meat of the play - the bit where two of the girls decide that the third must be sacrificed - is quickly skimmed over. 

And so we're funnelled into a murder scene where the killers' motivations haven't been established. The final bloody moments should be an exclamation mark at the end of a sentence. Here they're just a confusing ellipsis.

I'm usually all about brevity in theatre. Most stories can be told in an hour and its a rare play that wouldn't benefit from a bit of editing. But Something Awful gets very cramped trying to squeeze everything into an hour. It'd benefit from a lot more room to breathe.

Something Awful is at the Vault Festival until 2nd Feb. Tickets here.

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