Image courtesy All Terrain Theatre
A coming-of-age story about the struggle to form meaningful connections in a constantly evolving world.
This delightfully funny, touching and inspiring one man show begins in 1997 with a lonely, science-fiction obsessed child who starts recording his life on cassette tape - and continues for the next two decades.
Beginning with VHS and Nintendo, and progressing through the early days of the internet and MSN Messenger and right up to the smartphone and social media obsessed world of today.
Getting only a very short run on this outing, Billy Hicks's 'Connecting...' has already had a preview at last year's Camden Fringe.
Here at the recently-opened Chapel Playhouse (a sister venue of The Bread and Roses Theatre in Clapham) it finds itself in almost the perfect, intimate setting for a monologue of this kind, with a slightly raised stage that provides ample space for the energetic performance its author delivers.
The play begins in 1997 - the year that saw Tony Blair's New Labour swept to power, offering the potential at least for considerable and much-needed social, economic and political change.
But the lives of ordinary people were already changing and set to morph faster and more radically with the never-ending advance of consumer technology, whose presence was already evident, even if some of it - like the internet - hadn't yet become totally ubiquitous or embodied all the elements which we're now familiar with.
Connecting ... actually takes us on a kind of stroll through those technological changes, as seen and experienced through the eyes of one boy called Will who we initially meet as a nine year-old.
Throughout, we learn a lot about Will's obsessive interests - for example, Dr Who, science fiction and the like - and we get to know a person (a self-confessed 'nerd') who appears on the surface to be ebullient and buoyant.
Connecting ... certainly spots an important issue that deserves consideration both in dramatic form as well as in public discussions about how our society is developing, where it's heading and, in particular, how we form close and rewarding personal relationships in a world dominated by technology that might seem more intent on keeping people physically apart, rather than bringing them closer together in real-life.
Billy Hicks provides an affable, lively and endearing character, and makes a believable and well-described transition as Will grows up, finally arriving at his older, less bubbly and rather lonely self as a teen some decade or so after our initial meeting.
However, the play itself is much more subtle than it might seem, and a little misleading given quite a lengthy stretch of the action where we find Will seemingly lively and positive.
In a way, though, the piece might just be too subtle in terms of its overall strategy.
For example, it's only near the end that we learn of some issues the younger Will had to face - such as bullying at school.
Actually, that is partially signposted early on when we first meet Will setting up his new room after he's moved house.
But we really don't make the connection that the house move might have been connected with Will's victimisation at school, and his manner and behaviour early on doesn't betray suffering solitude, even if the pieces of the puzzle start to lock into place later.
Billy Hicks's performance ably maintains our attention throughout, and there's a moment near the end when he finds a more poignant tone during a somewhat frantic, but well-performed scene where he delivers a flood of memories that sadly seemed to contain few references to real human beings.
Overall, though, I left feeling that Mr Hicks's framework for his piece - meritoriously and deftly subtle though it is - needed to be more explicitly and dramatically graphic to illustrate the central issues, and to clearly establish its own viewpoint which, as it stands, seems rather vague.
Links and related content
ActDrop listing for Chapel Playhouse
Our show listing for Connecting...
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