at Warwick Arts Centre, Tuesday 22nd February 2011
There’s something in it. There really is. The general idea behind having each audience member control their own personal avatar on-screen through a virtual life is one which holds a certain amount of potential. In the on-screen world, ’BestLand’, we can decide whether or not we want to have underage sex, take drugs and drink and we can vote on various polls such as if we want to allow immigrants into our environment and who we want to be president. It’s a fairly accurate representation of reality and tells us something about our hidden desires, but it just isn’t given room to speak for itself.
This is clearly a very sophisticated piece of equipment, drawing on virtual worlds such as Second Life and, to an extent, Facebook, where we act out things we aren’t able to do in the real world and form virtual relationships. But whether it constitutes a two-hour piece of theatre is another question altogether. Just making everyone in the audience muck about with virtual selves with very little interaction and no obvious narrative soon becomes repetitive. By the time we hit thirty years, the novelty value is already beginning to wear off and we soon lose interest. When we’re offered the chance to commit suicide later in life, many jump at the chance.
But this isn’t the issue. The problem lies in the fact that on stage are a group of four people who have had a brilliant idea and try too hard to make it theatrical and engaging. They each enter delivering a monologue about their lives which they update throughout the course of the evening but which we do not care about in the slightest. Are these characters supposed to draw us in, or give us a commentary on the events on-screen?
The most embarrassing moments are when the four ‘performers’ attempt to drive some emotion into their piece. They sit around a ‘campfire’ while a man plays guitar and snow falls from the sky as they try to show us time is drawing on. Intermittent “News-flashes” endeavor to inject tension into the project but usually turn out to be incredibly dull. And the speech is laden with geeky references and nerdy jokes; why would we care about them when we have been told this evening is about the audience as “actor”.
I repeat: there’s something in this idea, but without sufficient cohesion and any form of justification it ends up being nothing more than playing a computer game with one hundred other people in front of four nerds. I’m sure the voting trends found across the world-tour of Best Before are extremely revealing about how different nationalities think, but as a single piece of theatre this does nothing to make us feel remotely interested. If I wanted to play video games, I could have just stayed at home.