Review: Protein Dance in LOL (lots of love) at The Place & touring

Performance: March - April 2011
Reviewed by Sanjoy Roy - Monday 21 March 2011

Protein LOL (lots of love). Kip Johnson.
Photo: Nuno Santos

Reviewed: 10 March, The Place.

Picture your face as you’re reading this. Attentive, focused, eyes on the screen but occasionally flicking down to keyboard or cursor, and perhaps simultaneously monitoring sidebars, menus, pop-ups. Behind that face is a person: you. And behind this text is another: me. Now (bear with me, please) imagine this encounter with interaction and multimedia – as if this text were a public posting to which you could respond, not just in words but with pictures and videos. Behind our faces: you and me. Between us: an interface. That, basically, is social networking – which is (here comes the point) the subject of Luca Silvestrini’s clever, comic and finally devastating new piece LOL (lots of love).

It opens with a video slideshow (by Rachel Davies): head-on close-ups of people at their computer screens, faces engaged and receptive. Immediately, you feel both face-to-face with them and conscious of the screen that separates you. That emotional-technological double bind is a constant subtext through the piece. Initially, the six characters appear as self-authored, multimedia presentations, their bodies twitching and jerking in the abbreviated, hyperstimulated style of the text-speak they recite (_haha dot capital-H capital-A exclamation mark smiley… Red alert: lost make-up bag!… OMG! _ – and suchlike). It’s a spry and funny scene, and anyone who’s used Facebook or Twitter will recognise the frantic, trivial and obsessive interactional matrix on display.

Later the stage becomes a virtual space, the cast wandering through it like Second Life avatars, animated automata who wave like signalling robots, or bump into each other by chance as they judder along to the ambient clattering of a million keystrokes. Again, it’s both funny and very unnerving – but LOL really hits home when it turns its attention to internet dating, exploring how the public personal data of our second lives – stats, profiles, pics – interact with our interior lives of desires and dreams. Two characters now come to the fore, both puppy-dog innocent. Sally-Marie plays a wide-eyed woman in a doomed romance with “Jeff”, an online outline of a person which she fills in with her own feelings and fantasies. It’s wickedly funny to watch her play out the cycle of intimacy, betrayal, break-up and make-up; heartbreaking that her emotional sincerity is so self-evidently solipsistic.

The other innocent is Kip Johnson, a gangly, geeky youngster who tells us of his encounter with an online contact, Stuart Waters. Johnson’s account is riven with self-denial and dissumulation: he met this guy, he was nice, they go for a picnic, then a gay club, not that he’s gay, but he ended up somehow with his friend… Meanwhile, Waters swings across Johnson, flips over his back, tips him over, buffets him with his body – and all the while, Johnson is talking plaintively to the audience. Physical reality and reported narrative are parallel worlds, entirely at odds.

Eventually, there’s a scene showing internet contacts who have arranged hopeful meetups. Waters meets up with Patsy Browne-Hope. Their kisses miss, he bursts into sobs, and she mothers him resignedly, as if the same damn scenario is happening again. Omar Gordon, a wideboy in a white suit, meets up with Sally-Marie in dismaying tights; it’s another mismatch in the making. Kip Johnson meets up with flame-haired Fernanda Prata, who gets the hots and jumps him. Jackpot! Except he ruins it by constantly trying to sneak mobile-phone snaps of them making out, the desire for digital data once again dominating the lived experience.

In the final scene, Johnson lies down alone, clasping a mass of cables in his arms, like a pillow, or a person. It’s a desolate and devastating image: the social network as a substitute for contact, even an impediment to it – a mask for vulnerability, a protection against painful reality. But ultimately, reality bites. And even though it’s funny and entertaining and laugh-out-loud, ultimately so does Protein’s LOL.

__*_PS Hey u! dont get 2 :( tho… go 2_* - proteins fab site where u can share yr feelings n stuff. Also pix, vids + links 2 FB, Twit, YT etc = KOOL! !! ! lol! xx sanjoy

Tour continues to Brighton, Tewksbury, Newport and Derby in April.

Dates & venues:

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