A stark stage is strewn with the detritus of technology: a visual cacophony of cast off modems, keyboards, consoles: gratingly brutal bursts of discordant modern jazz punctuates scene changes, sometimes overwhelming the pitiable stabs at conversation and communication between the characters. This manic hour-long piece invites the audience into the spiralling world of three intense gamers , one of whom spectacularly flames out (by overdose of Adderall) from competition (staged to resemble the aggressive push of a trading floor) , forcing the retreat of the trio from this insulated and consuming environment into the unforgiving parameters of the “real” world, requiring a state of being and clarity for which all three are woefully lacking. What is profoundly cynical and disturbing in writer Alex Benjamin’s accelerated debut script (not always particularly subtle or nuanced) is that the supposed saner, more rational world of conventional responsibility and behaviour hasn’t much to offer, here a sum total of unsuccessful job interviews, eviction notices, monetary insecurity, dysfunctional relationships, unrequited love and abandonment, and all the space one needs to tremendously drift off-to become completely lost and unmoored. In an overeliance on technology (and an inability to feel valuable or complete without some online presence), the most severely troubled character, Kieran, exiles himself to his bedroom to spend the bulk of his time on a live-feed, accruing a league of followers, mostly to watch him sleep. It is he who poses the theory that perhaps the world could be constructed from not concrete (definitive, strong, unyielding) but cotton, a substance at once more fragile, but also supportive and pliable (a needed cushion)- he then goes even more drastic, proposing it be built from the certainty and compactness of code. The acting, for the most part, is earnest, if not a bit erratic (with an odd bit of casting for the father, the performer of which doesn’t appear very much older than the two actors portraying his sons-it’s a young company, so this may be forgiven in terms of dramatic suspension). The tone is one of continual attack (perhaps mimicking the tenor of millennial ADHD angst), but over the course of the running time, and unregulated, grows somewhat wearisome and frustrating. A final sequence, borne of a thoughtful and loving gesture on part of father to son, is a quietly powerful kick of nostalgia, in the son’s hands the now-primitive (and innocent) device which started his love of the potentials of gaming and its access to consuming and palliative realms of fantasy and escape, before a curdle into obsession-on the precipice, with an adulthood looming, will he choose to succumb wholly once again, or devise a way in which to incorporate it into a wider life? I fear for him, as the dialogue of his two colleagues, sat on benches behind him in the dark, recedes further and further away from audibility, and from his consciousness.
The Vault Festival continues through 18 March, and has a full schedule of theatre, music, comedy and cabaret events from which to choose, as well as several options for food and drink.