Wednesday, 26 September 2012
Do Not Feed The Trolls
It's no surprise that work of a professional quality is emerging from the National Theatre of Scotland's Exchange event - the driving force behind this annual jamboree of youth theatre, Simon Sharkey, insists that just because it is being made by young people, it doesn't need to be simplistic or safe. Do Not Feed The Trolls is the first of 2012 Exchange's performances to emerge outside of the festival: a controversial success, it hammers the cliched expectations placed on youth theatre by following the twin inspirations of comedian Stewart Lee and the fluid structure recognisable from the radical Belgian theatre that has had such a lasting impact on recent Scottish drama.
Appropriately for a show aimed at, and made by, young people, DNFTT is preoccupied by a recent phenomena. Internet banter, only five years ago concentrated in chat rooms and now transferred to the comment box on Facebook, has always had its darker contributors. Encouraged by the anonymity of the web, trolls post abusive comments. DNFTT is a sharp condemnation of these characters who exist only to tease and attack.
Far from being an overtly moralistic diatribe, the devised performance acknowledges that the line between trolling and sincere comment is thin: the cast admit their pleasure in watching accidents on YouTube, spreading rumours and winding each other up. In an instant, a victim can become a tormentor. While the troll is condemned, a clear connection is made between real world bullying and on-line skullduggery.
Theatre is pretty enthusiastic about tackling big questions these days - the proliferation of scripts about the net back in the Fringe 2010 might have reflected cultural change but the disgust of the authors might have been fuelled as much by the threat from this relatively new medium as any moral high ground. DNFTT represents the thoughts of a generation raised with the net. They accept it as part of life, and even the verbal violence is simply another aspect of on-line activity. It is addressed and condemned, but not without an awareness of their own complicity.
Trolling is recognised in terms of a more general cultural attitude, that enjoys a bit of rough and tumble. Taking Stewart Lee's extended rant about "people falling over" - unlike Lee, the cast admit they like it - they connect popular comedy traditions with the contemporary taste for on-line aggression. The version seen at Exchange relied heavily on Lee's words, but drew fresh conclusions from his meditation on why that bloke out of Only Fools and Horses taking a tumble is so hilarious. Tragedy is played out as entertainment. It's unsurprising that the audience becomes inured against it.
It's in the honesty and energy that DNFTT comes up most impressive. Making drama about the net is difficult - it's a medium in its own right, that has a very different aesthetic to theatre. Wonderland tried it at the Fringe, and had the same preachy anxiety as the drama made by Linda La Plante in the early 2000s (although it didn't have La Plante's stunning ignorance of how a computer actually works). DNFTT consciously undermines its own moral message - either it is hypocrital or simply too tough to maintain - and expresses a genuinely young but still intelligent attitude towards the way technology impacts on the individual and the community.