F. Off

The National Youth Theatre have put Mark Zuckerberg on trial. The cast of this ensemble piece are furious at what Zuk’s got away with and this Fringe they’re holding him to account.

They're putting Facebook on trial, but it's hard to judge NYTs latest Fringe offering

In this 75-minute energetic exploration of youth culture, media coverage, court etiquette and who’s to blame for the status quo, a large company impress the audience despite Tatty Hennessy’s script.

We’re in a courtroom and the audience is the jury. It’s a self-aware show which demands more from its audience than just to sit still and listen. Tongue in cheek jokes fill the script; "all of this is pretty irregular, I’m 15 years old" says the judge, played by Amelia Braithwaite, who lit up the stage. Indeed, the thirteen strong company deliver each line with zest and flare; they are all a wonder to watch.

Will Stewart plays the charismatic Californian whistleblower or our master of ceremonies and Ted Talk operator. His seemingly improvised audience interaction was fantastic but it is hard to know what it lent the narrative. Facebook's ridiculously long terms and conditions were read out hilariously and fed through the audience, but other gimmicky moments of interaction fell flat through poor direction.

The framing trial narrative breaks for the subplot in which a candidate to be the next Labour MP is lured into a Cambridge Analytica type operation which sees her duping voters, manipulating data and winning her election. Hard-hitting narrative developments shine a light on institutionalised racism in British politics. Tiajna Izekor as the MP and Kathrine Payne as her aid played an impressively convincing pair, raising interesting questions about how politicians and the public engage with one another and social media.

Brilliant moments, like Shakira Newton and Nathan Whitebrook’s courtroom encounter, are cut short before they are given a chance to develop. Zuk’s lawyer makes the case for getting what we like, but the prosecution’s clerk emphasises that ‘progress and progressiveness aren’t the same thing.’ Here Hennessy’s script starts to say something interesting just as it is interrupted by another movement sequence.

The cast wonder about the stage, glued to their iPhones to the tune of a predictable but effective soundscape. Despite the contrite movement, the cast’s collective energy and earnestness means it works. A woollen web surrounds the action, but this is all part of F Off’s problem, it’s all too literal. The audience are patronised by a script that explains the basic facts of social media, but we were patronised so enthusiastically, making the show a real hoot.

In the end, however, it was not justice for gen-Z on Facebook that I left wanting, but justice for these performers whose skills are underused. Ultimately, an exceptional cast sustain this play in a script that lags.

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The Blurb

F. Off. As the extremes of social media kick up an unsettling and unsavoury stink, Evening Standard 'One to Watch' writer Tatty Hennessy, National Youth Theatre Artistic Director Paul Roseby and Britain's best young talent are kicking off in response in true interrogatory style to put Mark Zuckerberg and his social network colleagues on trial. The question is who really is to blame, and who is following who? So we ask you, the audience, to be the jury and the NYT company will be the disrupters. Served with a heavy helping of humour, some knitting and hardcore experts.

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