I’m obsessed with trigger warnings. Not because I am worried about them – you don’t review fringe theatre without having to deal with some difficult subjects – no, I read them out of a strange fascination.
It’s safe to say Sad-vents trigger warning list was like a drug to me. And Eleanor Hill makes you very aware of them again as she launches into a pre-show warning about what to expect, offering us the chance to leave if things get too much. Unsurprisingly no one does, even a warning that she will be talking about rape and cannibalism is met with a casual nod of acceptance from an audience clearly ready for her worst.
It is certainly her worst we get in this visually unique and cleverly designed show. Hill delivers a series of monologues in the form of Instagram livestreams. She spends most of her time talking directly into her phone, which is then broadcast on the screen behind her. These livestreams, much like her diagnosed depression, are up and down in nature, although mostly down. Nothing is off limits as she seriously overshares to her Insta audience. But what starts as just a sad venting of her misery gets gradually darker as we start to understand more about Tony, her ex-boyfriend with whom she is still unhealthily obsessed.
What is most impressive about Hill’s writing is that whilst she overshares everything, she never directly says what is so obvious to everyone: that she is in an abusive relationship. It’s this subtle skirting around the subject rather than laying it directly out that allows us to make our own decisions, although surely there is only one to come to.
Visually Sad-vents is just as fascinating. Yes, many shows are now using video screens, but this is the first time I’ve seen a show almost done directly into a phone with the image broadcast behind her, giving us an incredibly up-close perspective. Much thought has gone into ensuring the right angles to capture the required content. At times she is hardly visible, hiding under her duvet with her phone forcing us to watch the video screen alone. It is certainly a very modern tech savvy approach, adding an extra dimension to proceedings. But it’s not just the live projection that is admirable. Plenty of thought has gone into all the video projection, as her story is further enhanced with images and messages that play nicely alongside what she is saying.
The whole show has a scarily realistic feel to it. Whereas in the past keeping a diary was the way to lay out all your angst, nowadays diaries have been replaced with telling the world via social media. But it’s the subtle approach to addressing an abusive relationship that is the most realistic thing; how Hill cannot see what is in front of her, returning again and again to it, even apologising and blaming herself for his actions. Because this happens, sometimes we all do things that are not healthy.
Which brings me back to that obsession with trigger warnings. Perhaps if I was still seeing my therapist, she would tell me it’s just another form of self-harm, seeking out misery as my default (yes this is real thing!). It’s certainly something Hill would no doubt be able to understand, I suspect her trigger warnings are a way to deal with her own demons, to laugh about the absurdity of it all. But in doing it her way, in front of an audience and in front of her phone’s camera, she has taken her own struggles and anguish in a stunningly inventive way to put on an incredibly powerful, thought provoking show.
Written by: Eleanor Hill
Directed by: Annie Mckenzie
Produced by: Eleanor Hill and Velenzia Spearpoint
Stage Manager & Show Technician: Jaymie Quin-Stewart
Videography by: Rich Rusk
Sad-vents plays at VAULT Festival 2023 until 3 February 2023. Further information and bookings can be found here.
You can hear more about this show in our podcast interview with Eleanor Hill here.