The Fresher’s Fest production of Edna Walsh’s Chatroom is a triumph from directors Colm Gleeson and Ellie White. It was captivating, and its cast delivered electrifying performances. Poignant and relevant in theme, Chatroom impressed with its harrowing exploration of cyber bullying, and engaged in an intensely moving mediation on teenage depression.
With only six chairs, scattered props and some tattered Niteline posters on the wall, the minimalist set created an appropriately eerie setting for the play, which explores the dangerous potential of Internet chat-rooms. There is barely any physical movement from the actors, which focused the audience’s attention on the dialogue, evidencing the central focus of the play – the fact that ‘in these [chat] rooms words are power’. The use of spotlighting created a sense that the audience was peeking into cyberspace conversations and evoked the labyrinthine web of chat-rooms, rendering the virtual atmosphere of the Internet into a smart physical interpretation on stage.
The play begins in lighthearted tones; a Harry Potter chat-room is followed by an online discussion of Britney Spears. Accusations of Britney’s betrayal of ten-year-olds (by getting breast implants) are so passionate that a girl wants to murder her. This created comedy through absurd lines such as ‘Britney you sold my childhood soul!’. Despite their comic overtones, these discussions reveal a darker significance and introduce the audience to the sinister preoccupations of the play. The Britney chat-room addresses disturbing and relevant issues such as the sexualization of young adult culture, while the Harry Potter chat-room raises ideas about the importance of a revolutionary teenage spirit, which later takes on ominous significance. Seemingly lighthearted topics shift to a Niteline chat-line where a volunteer tries to create a safe space for suicidal Jim, and the play quickly descends into the horrors of internet chat-rooms, where cyber bulling operates in its most frightening forms. The success of the comic delivery at the start enabled the production to mirror this power of the Internet; lulling the audience into a false sense of security, then catching us off-guard with the intensely emotional performances that followed.
Five of the actors switched roles throughout the performance irrespective of their gender. In this way, Chatroom is a disturbing dramatization of the falsity and manipulation facilitated by chat-rooms. These five newcomers showcased their adaptability and deserve recognition for the challenging nature of the roles they tackled. Each actor played at least one character brilliantly despite some transitions between roles being a little ropey, and the occasional stumbling over lines can be excused by first-night nerves. Lenny Buckley stood out with his performance of suicidal Jim. Buckley has a commanding stage presence, and he gave a charged performance of a complex character plagued by feelings of depression and angst. The intensity of the performances was exhilarating, and I wasn’t prepared for the heart wrenching impression it left on me afterwards.
With a standing ovation and mutterings around campus of this being the best play to grace the Players stage so far this term, Walsh and Gleeson’s production of Chatroom will leave its mark.