23 July 2015

Going Viral @ Northern Stage

Having seen work by Daniel Bye previously, I was kind of anticipating some sort of interactive/interesting way of involving the audience before I even set foot into the theatre (in How to Occupy an Oil Rig audience members were invited to create mini plasticine figures of themselves). I was the first person in the theatre at the Northern Stage, and was slightly perturbed to see seats organised in a rectangular formation around the stage.”If he sees me writing he’s going to go for me” was my first thought. I took a seat next to a carrier bag prop and then realised that the first two rows were available, and ummed and ahhed about whether to change seats. I did eventually, telling myself I would get a better vantage point if I moved (nothing to do with my fear of being publicly humiliated of course).

Then out came Daniel, who set the scene by pulling numerous over-the-counter medications from a plastic bag,  making it quite clear what our bodies come up against on a daily basis. He then used a technique which I wish my science teacher had applied at school to explain how a virus worked – tipping a bag full of liquorice allsorts on to the floor (I was practically ready to get down on my hands and knees to nab a few).  He then set the premise  - a man on a flight from Uganda to Heathrow sits next to an attractive woman who during the flight starts to weep uncontrollably. This weeping spreads to other passengers on the plane, and soon the hashtag #weepers is going viral on social media, creating worldwide panic over a bizarre new epidemic. The science bit is eerily accurate – probably due to the fact that a scientific advisor was consulted during writing the script. The two main protagonists are the male character on the plane, (who proceeds to slowly freaks out at the fact that he seems to be the only person on the plane who didn’t contract the virus) and a female scientist from India whose job it is to investigate how the disease started and predict how it will spread. Daniel switches between playing the two characters with ease, cleverly showing the panic rising versus a more logical approach. 

Fortunately humour is injected into what is essentially a quite serious piece regularly, with a Celebrity Virus quiz involving the audience which emphasised which viruses are the most contagious (luckily for us measles, rather than Ebola) and an odd moment where Daniel asked an audience member to pluck hairs out of his arm. Anyone who chops up onions and eats very hot chillies for the sake of the script is obviously committed to his craft. 

The action moves from London, to Amsterdam, Dubai and finally Mumbai as the immune central character tries to run away from the press (by this point things have gotten pretty serious). The characters finally meet in Mumbai, however I was left wanting a little more from the ending. That said, overall the blend of monologue storytelling, science demonstrations and audience participation, along with the sense of unease created by being so close to the action ensured that I left the theatre with a plethora of questions and thoughts pinging around in my head, and seriously craving liquorice allsorts.  

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