“Please say hello to us on Facebook & Twitter”, invite @PoleroidTheatre in their programme notes for #ThisMustBeThePlace. It’s a sweet-sounding sentiment, but one that seems quite at odds with the post-social media cynicism of the unhashtag’d This Must Be The Place, a dynamic piece of new writing that is book-ended by a mobile phone being flung into the Thames.
With pockets free of web and widget, Adam (Bottleneck’s James Cooney) has nicked a bike from the anonymous neighbours in his London building and is counting the hours spent peddling away from the city, and from the devices that trap him in his digital and urban networks. He’s travelled so far, he can see animals, nature – even a Little Chef. He wonders whether JustEAT or Deliveroo might deliver. Then remembers, he took his phone to the river.
While cinema-goers concern themselves worrying about the extent to which Danny Boyle’s T2 Trainspotting carries up the zeitgeist, this script reads like a revisitation of the Choose Life monologue for those stuck on 24-month phone contracts, £215.90 Zone 1-5 monthly rail passes, and crammed commuter trains. The four dynamic actors, uttering fierce and purposeful witticisms from microphones, all flawless hybrids of standup artists, campaigners and characters, are constantly commanding on stage. All are coiled with pent-up energy, like WWE tag team wrestlers full of power even when its not their turn to act.
With a spirit borrowed from Ewan McGregor, our characters rally against “Your tweets to the local council about unjust parking fines. Your chesty cough. Your black snot. Your nice and liberal news articles. Liked. Commented. Shared.” The millennial cynicism – directed towards the city, the technology, the hipsters around us, the hipster that are us, and the books “bought for Christmas by parents that don’t read blurbs” – may be as well trod as Urban Outfitters’ carpet, but the originality and vibrancy of this collaboration between Brad Birch and Kenneth Emson doesn’t disappoint the critic who came along gunning for the originality and vibrancy of the namesake Talking Heads track.
Though there’s nothing fresh about their perceptions, Birch and Emson’s work is freshly biting and crisply unsentimental. Fittingly, Adam’s significant other, Lily, is frustrated when he doesn’t pick up the phone – not because he is out drinking with the lads (so ’90s), not because he’s on the pull in Oceana or on some sleazy internet hook-up (so ’00s), but because “I thought we were gonna watch Game of Thrones.” Cooney brings a nervous authority to his runaway character, which gels well with the anxious sweetness of Poleroid Theatre’s Artistic Director Molly Roberts, who takes the role of his pragmatic hipster other half.
Comic relief is brought in by the bucketload by Feliks Mathur and Hamish Rush, as the so-dry-they’re-flammable Tate and Matty. While Adam and Lily’s dialogue is fraught with the acute discomfort of being hyper-connected, Tate and Matty exhibit the kind of wild-fire exchanges that one can only expect when two such individually-established contemporary writers collide. While Adam describes life without his phone as “the amputation of a limb, the loss of a parent”, Tate and Matty busy themselves with tall tales about spotting Bruce Forsyth in Argos. “Chin the Night Garden”, one remarks of Forsyth’s caricature bone-structure. “Jaws”, replies the other in a spree of cultural reference one-upmanship.
These fellows are down on luck and low on prospects, but spend more time analysing the practical application of the expression “fuck off while you fuck yourself” than interrogating the social system that got them where they are today. Against the mellowed cultural observations of the other two characters, these fellows are shown as brash, quick-thinking and grounded – and above all this, they reveal the cracking collaborative mastery of their two duelling writers.
This Must Be The place was on at Vault festival 2017. Click here for more details.