Theatre makers have proven their creativity during lockdown, finding new and wonderful ways to present their stories to a stuck-at-home audience. So an invitation from Hatch to watch a play via WhatsApp wasn’t actually as surprising as it may first seem. And thankfully, even for someone not so technically minded, getting into the play was as easy as clicking a link, emailed out pre-show. Well, actually, that is all it required!
Link clicked, we’re invited into a family group chat. Things begin as all normal family chats legally have to, with a photo of a meal. There are then the usual comments on how good it all looks, leading into sad news of a death of a close family friend. So far, so normal. There are some lovely cultural references, and whilst a number were beyond my knowledge it helped give a feel of eavesdropping on a diverse family. But slowly things take a downward turn as it is revealed that the mother of the family is not well, a fact that the son living at home has failed to share with the rest of them until this point. As the chat continues, it seems that something really isn’t quite right; but is it a mental health issue, or perhaps something much more sinister?
The WhatsApp approach is certainly novel. The group should be praised for trying something different. And much to my surprise, an element of tension is built up as the story progresses through a mixture of typed messages, audio clips and brief videos. But is it enough to sustain a 50-minute show? Sitting staring at a screen, watching the messages scroll through, sometimes with unnecessarily long pauses between them, is a tension killer. Worse though, I only realised we’d reached the end when a thank you message arrived with instructions on how to delete the chat and remove ourselves from the WhatsApp group, which demonstrates the limitations of the medium. The final couple of minutes really don’t work in text messages: they need to be vocalised, they need the tension of fading lights, low background noise, elements that help put you on edge. It’s these things that you hardly notice when you watch but are what make for the sudden shock you can feel at the end of a play that’s so much more powerful.
This would have worked significantly better as a Zoom performance. It would certainly solve the annoyance of those long pauses. It would have also have given us visual clues as to the family relationships, who were the parents, brothers, sisters and so forth. And most importantly, the ending would have had much more impact visually than a series of typed messages does. Having someone dramatically leave a Zoom call is always going to be much more effective than them just not responding in a WhatsApp group chat!
Hatch do deserve massive praise for attempting something so very different, something that in parts worked well. But trying to build and then maintain tension in this format is never going to be easy. What is clear though is that there is an interesting story here, one that could send chills down the spine if the right medium is used.
Written and directed by: Hatch Theatrics
Produced by: Hatch and Omnibus Theatre
This play has completed its current run. More information about this and other productions from Hatch Theatricals can be found on their website, link below.