Presented by the National Youth Theatre and written by Tatty Hennessy, I had high hopes for F. Off at the Fringe’s Underbelly Cowgate venue. With social networks, and in particular Facebook, receiving so much bad publicity lately, the time feels right for a searing exposé in to life behind the silicon valley giants, but this isn’t it.
It’s supposed to be an interactive trial, with Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg taking to the stand on the charge of data theft, with us as the audience playing the jury. But the trial element is drastically underplayed, trying to be satire but too often coming across as farce.
When it’s not the trial, it’s a TED Talk which does actually reveal some interesting talking points about social networks and the data they collect, but it starts to get confusing and difficult to follow. It also starts to feel just a little too preachy, and I was just waiting for the cast to demand we all get our phones out and delete all our social media forever (and eventually they do, but it’s more a rhetorical question than an actual demand). The serious message that comes across in these segments is diminished by the chaotic and busy courtroom scenes, that became increasingly irritating as the show progressed.
On top of all this going on, there’s an engaging narrative about a politician and her daughter, the latter gets in to trouble when she catfishes a boy on twitter and the former goes viral after having a milkshake thrown at her. This is the most engaging part of F. Off and I dearly wished that everything else had been dispensed with in favour of this far more compelling story line.
In one of the shows more interactive moments the cast perform a ‘Facebook Magic Trick’, I can’t tell you anything about it because it would completely ruin it for anyone still to see it, but it is very cleverly done and says more about the dangers of social media than everything else in this play combined.
The production has a very modern feel the stage is surrounded by a net (you know, like the inter-net) and characters possessions and costumes are regularly thrown on to the top of the net as if being stored above your head in the cloud. The cast use mobile phones to play videos and music that link in with various parts of the story, and the link between staging and theme is strong.
It’s a subject which should have plenty to speak to people about, but F. Off just doesn’t get it quite right. Too often it’s like watching a drama school class learn improv rather than watching a finished piece of theatre, and the key message isn’t anywhere subtle enough.
Main Image Credit: Helen Maybanks