Pros: An ambitious show that skilfully combines captivating darkness with brilliant humour.
Cons: Raising more questions than it answers, Reality does not always live up to the potential of its intriguing premise.
Reality is an intense and aggressive play. There is a lot of noise, a lot of shouting, and a lot of near-chaos. There are some uncomfortable, unpleasant scenes; but it is also surprisingly funny, with brilliant bursts of humour cropping up at unexpected moments. This playful touch saves the show by softening its dark themes of exploitation and humiliation, without undermining them.
The play was developed by its young cast and explores our preoccupation with fame and money through the modern phenomenon of reality TV. The action takes place during a group audition for a reality TV show called The Hostage. During the audition, the potential contestants are pushed to their limits to see both what they will endure and what they are willing to do to others. Unpleasant power dynamics quickly rise and fall between the desperate contestants. It is an intriguing and disturbing premise, which highlights the troubling, aggressive side of some forms of modern entertainment. Reality uses this starting point to explore how much we will allow ourselves to be taunted, humiliated and abused in our quests for success, money and power. And in turn, how much are we willing to hurt and humiliate others?
The characters are a collection of deliberate and known stereotypes, and I particularly liked the way the show flits between reinforcing and subverting the stereotypes it plays with. The cast are enthusiastic and able, with no real weak links in the acting. However, it is a large cast for a show with a run time of just 75 minutes and there was not enough time to explore each character in much depth. In the same way, the play raises a lot of very interesting questions but doesn’t always go far enough in answering them.
This is a promising show, by turns enjoyable and intriguing to watch. Yet it feels slightly unfinished; it is more a meditation or exploration of issues of identity, fame, and power rather than a complete narrative with a satisfying form and plot. With so many characters to introduce, so many themes and concerns to explore, and a focus on humanity’s darker, violent side, there are moments when the show descends into chaotic confusion. However, if Reality does not always live up to its potential, it is mainly because it is a very ambitious project that attempts to dissect complicated issues around power, identity, strength and suffering in just an hour and a quarter.
One of the strongest and most fitting elements of the production is the use of slick audio-visual technology. Large televisions hang over the performance space, sometimes showing footage external to the play, sometimes displaying the actors themselves from a slightly different angle. It serves to create a claustrophobic, oppressive atmosphere and to draw the audience in, making them feel complicit. The theatre audience is placed in the same position as the audiences of reality TV show, finding entertainment in the humiliation and degradation of the contestants on the shows. It is an uncomfortable position to find oneself in, and a position that will make you think again next time you watch a reality show or a talent competition.