‘Internet celebrity’ used to sound contradictory. Now, more and more people are rising to household-name status on the back of their social media profile. That trend is reflected on Fringe stages, with multiple shows addressing new media, including
The use of tech gives a sense of the world while allowing the cast to stay intimate.
Follow/Unfollow is about how Internet stars are born, and how they die. Youtube sensation Ryan Marten’s silly videos inspire the ire of one ideological teenager, Chloe. Via the help of Ryan’s manager Dee, she starts to attract public attention herself, but at what cost?
The plot is fairly basic. Ryan and Chloe have opposing character arcs, made obvious via scenes that mirror earlier ones, but with the other character. Dee’s plot is more organic, but turns on a subplot that’s held so far back that it fails to hold significance when it needs to. Other than that, the story is too obvious to surprise or impress, with dialogue that is merely competent.
The cool part is the use of tech. Three screens regularly project videos, of Ryan himself, or of reactions to them. These give a sense of the world while allowing the cast to stay intimate, and are well timed and paced. The only exception to that is one live phone call projected on the screen – obviously a recording – that ruins the immersion.
Performances are unspectacular. Ryan Marten (played by Jay Podmore, or himself, according to the programme) nails the character of the over-enthusiastic Youtuber. But that character allows little range, which shows in his more downbeat scenes. Nor does he share any chemistry with Dee (Leanne Martin). Martin ends up the emotional centre of the piece, but her writing drags her into too much of a clichéd character to manage the straight woman role. Torn wildly between greasy chips and boardroom meetings, she becomes a caricature, and unsympathetic.
Lily Shepherd’s performance as Chloe was my favorite, delivering a muted standoffishness into her phone. Aspects of her character tugged on my heartstrings, something that could not be said for the other two.
Follow/Unfollow is a topical play. But a good topic alone doesn’t make good theatre. Until the characters are more fully realised and the plot more delicately structured, Follow/Unfollow will not get much recommendation.