Jerk

If you took the E4 teen drama Skins and combined it with Disney’s Inside Out, the by-product would be something similar to that of Jerk. The story follows Ivan (Nick Edgeworth), Ellen (Harley Truslove) and Simon (Ryan Harris) – three characters working inside a young boy’s brain as he journeys through his teenage years. It is via these characters, and the unseen omniscient presence of Sarah (a robotic control centre for the body) that decisions are made in the pursuit of dopamine, and the combat of guilt. It was an original concept exploring obsession and how humans mature through puberty. However, the inclusion of non-consensual sex was poorly thought through.

an original concept exploring obsession

The dynamic between the three characters was well written. Truslove hit the mark acting as negotiator Ellen, ensuring the smooth running of operations by frequently diffusing tension between Ivan and Simon. Edgeworth evidently understood the way desire fuelled Ivan, portraying him as manipulative and gluttonous and Harris’ concerned tone when attempting to rein in Ivan worked well in contrast.

What I found to be disappointing was the fact that there were no significant consequences for Ivan’s actions. At the peak of the play, Ivan’s impulsive desire for pleasure meant that the boy who Ivan controls did not gain consent before engaging in a new sexual act with his girlfriend. Her boundaries were violated, and she was left distraught. Although Ellen and Simon frankly expressed their anger towards Ivan, Simon’s apology was made to the girlfriend as ‘damage control’, which left me feeling uncomfortable. The control centre, where the play is situated, later was flooded with guilt, represented through dimly lit red lighting and Sarah’s voice becoming glitchy. Simon appeared to have given up on morally correcting Ivan, highlighting that although Ivan felt guilty there were no external repercussions on these abusive actions. When the play cut to the closing scene of the boy at uni, it was evident that Ivan still did not possess a concrete understanding of consent, which left me wondering how far his character had grown.

Reviews by Amy Betteridge

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The Blurb

Ivan, Ellen and Simon work in the brain of a young man, and it’s their job to keep him happy, fulfilled and safe. In the beginning, this is pretty straightforward. You see a thing you want, you point at it, mum and dad give it to you – happiness is a doddle! However, getting regular hits of dopamine becomes harder with age, and Ivan, Ellen and Simon quickly discover that seeking new highs can be dangerous. Ivan develops a compulsion for porn, and the relationship between the three strains as Ellen and Simon clash over how to overcome the addiction. With guilt levels rising and the dopamine itself proving less and less effective, Ivan's attempts to chase that high become even more extreme. Shortlisted for Outside Edge Theatre Company’s 2020 Phil Fox Award for Playwriting, Jerk is funny, filthy and relatable story about addiction and shame, reworked as a film for the 2021 Brighton Fringe.

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