sat 15/06/2024

Infinite Lives, Tobacco Factory Theatres, Bristol | reviews, news & interviews

Infinite Lives, Tobacco Factory Theatres, Bristol

Infinite Lives, Tobacco Factory Theatres, Bristol

The loneliness of a web-fixated masturbator

John (Ray Scannell) in virtual conversation with model CarlosPaul Blakemore

Plunging into the lonely vortex of the long distance web wanker isn’t obviously gripping theatre, but Chris Goode’s seventy-minute descent into tawdry solitude and digital fantasy doesn’t do too badly.

Nothing much happens on stage, as John, a wannabe erotic science-fiction writer, communes with the audience as well as with Carlos, a Los Angeles- based model who plies his trade on a porn site and chat room. As he talks to us spectators, we become implicated in uneasy voyeurism, alleviated by wry and sometimes intentionally facile banter, as if John were desperately trying to make us comfortable as well as sympathize with his painful isolation.

The show makes much of the numerical basis of digital information – a clean and affectless realm that contrasts almost violently with John’s all-too-physical desire. Carlos, because of the vagaries of bit stream, sometimes melts into barely recognizable pixelated forms.  The set is simple, cleverly  - and sparingly - using a back projection screen that avoids a conventional shape and dimensions.  We get to see Carlos as he stares out – at John and at us – and, just out of frame, masturbates. We also get lo-fi animation: streams of noughts and ones, the deep structure or digital communication, pairs that talk and yet don’t – like Carlos and John -  as well as the text of brief exchanges in the chat-room.

Ray Scannell plays John with a disarming and disarmed mixture of vulnerability, adolescent desire and self-deprecation. We feel every detail of digital anomie, his desire fixated on a virtual surrogate. The disjuncture between flesh and pixel which lies at the heart of our contemporary malaise comes across very strongly in his performance and in Chris Goode’s text, which manages to be both serious and light.

John is trapped in fantasies and longing, and his discomfort is displayed a little too relentlessly through the course of the show, along with the addictive nature of his carnal desire. John’s solipsistic existence and lack of real relationship are central to the piece but they hardly make for strong narrative or a gripping theatrical experience.  Robert Lepage, who has explored similar personal territory, manages by dazzling us with brilliantly imagined lighting, video or illusionistic effects. It is to Chris Goode and director Nik Patridge’s credit that they have avoided making the show effect-heavy, as, in Lepage's case, the super well financed medium can get in the way of the message. The world of the masturbator, as evoked by Chris Goode – even if his protagonist John has a fertile imagination and a certain amount of wit – is by definition limited.

The show ends with a merciful and well-executed coup de théâtre as John turns his laptop’s webcam on the audience to reveal us as fellow-victims of digital illusion, and then disappears from the stage, with the webcam now pointed forwards, as he walks out of the building into the night street, free at last from the entrapment of porn-site fantasy, and making plans for a life in the more tangibly real world.

  • Infinite Lives is at The Brewery, Tobacco Factory Theatres until Saturday 15 February
The disjuncture between flesh and pixel which lies at the heart of our contemporary malaise comes across very strongly


Editor Rating: 
Average: 3 (1 vote)

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