Something Awful presented by FLUX Theatre
What Is It?
Something Awful is inspired by the 2014 “Slenderman stabbing.” It’s a new play from Vault Award-winning and Offie Award-nominated team Tatty Hennessy and Lucy Jane Atkinson, produced by Flux Theatre.
What Is It About?
Soph (Natalya Martin) and Jel (Monica Anne) are best friends who love scary stories. They like to troll each other with creepypastas (horror-related legends or images) from the darker corners of the internet. When new girl Ellie (Melissa Parker) shows up in school, they welcome her into the fold, and she brings her own horror stories to the table. And then a girl in a nearby town goes missing…
How Did It Make Me Feel?
The play was effective in transporting me to a very specific time and place. The internet of the late noughties/early tens was a little less tame, and a lot less sanitised. Something Awful does a grand job of evoking that nostalgia of being a bit of a teenage edgelord, sharing questionable links and messing about with your friends when you’re slightly too young to be on most sites in question. Even the name of the play brings up some flashbacks. The characters swap stories that would have shades of the familiar to many as commonly-circulated urban legends, histories, and—dare I say—SCPs from that time. It certainly brought a smile to my face, and I feel the piece was strongest as a tribute to growing up in that era of internet history. At least before things start going pear-shaped for the characters!
The script is layered, with a lot to read between the lines. The writing did well in imparting the ‘edginess’ of the online locales and emphasising the characters’ youth despite their gory hobbies, especially in a touching and funny scene where a terrified Soph unexpectedly gets her first period. That said, though it was telegraphed, the ending could have been better-developed. As it stands, it feels incomplete, almost assuming knowledge of the real Slenderman stabbing case and the history of the meme, despite the Slenderman story being nicely rewritten for the play.
Something Awful addresses the nature of fear, horror stories, and asking us what the real monsters are. There is a barely-there abuse subplot that reminds us of that. I am glad it doesn’t delve into the on-going moral panic surrounding young people and fiction, though it so easily could have—to do so would have been to obscure the point and weigh down the play. Instead the emphasis is on the choices made, and strong performances from all three actors make us care in a short space of time. The creepypasta scene is the girls’ primary outlet of creativity and enjoyment, and it is the only place they had any agency. So it’s heartbreaking when the characters turn on each other. Strange hobbies don’t make a good or bad person, as we can see in Jel, portrayed perfectly by Monica Anne as the sweet-faced schoolgirl who may like things that are a bit messed up, but still takes the time to defend her mum.
The play is held in the Cavern space in the Vaults, which is the ideal environment for the subject matter. Lighting and sound design choices that worked with the space contributed to a strong horror atmosphere, though I wonder if it could have been taken further.
Something Awful is playing at the Cavern, VAULT Festival until Sunday 2nd February 2020.
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