Review: A Friend’s Request
Comedy coupled with catastrophe
Set in the modern world, where Facebook is only a click away and social media is a constant presence, ‘A Friend’s Request’ stars three characters; Tal, Jake and TV Star @Big_Bum to produce a piece of theatre which focuses on the dangerous repercussions of the world of obsessive social media, where relationships are sacrificed for the sake of the ‘gram’ and making a ‘friend’ means clicking ‘accept’ on a Facebook.
The basic plotline of ‘A Friend’s Request’ is structured around the imbalanced Facebook friendship of Tal and Jake, which is soon threatened by the superficial romance of Jake and former reality TV star, @Big_Bum, after Jake’s rise to internet fame. In an attempt not to be sidelined by @Big_Bum in his relationship with Jake, Tal works as a social media manager for the newlyweds as a human ‘wedding present’, but soon the marriage breaks down due to the fake and superficial nature of both Jake and @Big_Bum’s lifestyle.
Starring Artemas Nicoll Cowley as Jake, Theo Barnett as Tal and Anna Trowby as @Big_Bum, ‘A Friend’s Request’ blended light-hearted, toilet humour with cruel, misanthropic undertones. The performance had some genuine moments of comedy, and the actors must be given credit for this. Particularly amusing was the swift rise to Facebook fame of Jake, through accidentally posting a picture of his excrement on Facebook. This was an entertaining and light-hearted sequence of events which soon took a dark turn when Tal ambiguously left the stage for the final time, declaring, ‘I might just go and throw myself off a tall building’. An effective ending, with a good level of comedy; the actors were clearly confident on stage and their energy and enthusiasm must be commended! However, the comedy did take a little while to ramp up, and I felt as though the play might be improved by a slight condensing to make it shorter and a little more snappy.
The play was in the Larkum Studio, an intimate environment which felt cosy and friendly. Centre-stage was a cardboard box with print-outs of celebrities plastered to its sides, a constant and unchanging embodiment of the ever-present world of social media, which dominated the lives of all the characters. The actors were creative with the space, given the constraints of the room, and they used levels and all areas of the room effectively, sitting in the aisle, standing on a raised platform on the stage, pacing to the outer edges of the room.
The lighting was undeniably confusing at points, with spotlights occasionally flashing onto actors who hadn’t anticipated their cue. This slightly lowered the tone of the performance, and the different transition songs in between each scene, centred around the theme of ‘Big Bums’ seemed slightly jarring. I couldn’t work out if the ‘Big Bum’ theme was a jab at the world of casual internet misogyny and if this was indeed the writer and director’s intentions, I feel it needed to be spelt out a little more clearly.
Instead, I felt uncomfortable at the overt sexualising of the only woman on stage; her entire character was defined by her ‘Bum’. Whether or not this was a critique of the sexualising nature of social media, the message was not overt enough, and I felt that the very real sexualising of men on social media had been completely overlooked. Perhaps there was simply more need for nuance within the fabric of the play in order to portray the message of the consequences of sexualising on social media.
Overall, the actors certainly deserve credit for their energy, enthusiasm and comedy, despite some slightly questionable and over-exaggerated elements of the play. I felt that it was a performance which reflected the dangers of our social-media obsessed world well, and had some good ideas.
Cover: Charles Keusters