EDINBURGH 2018 - BWW Review: USER NOT FOUND, Traverse at Jeelie Piece Cafe
The 21st century has made ghosts real. Many of us will live on long after we die in the form of innumerable tweets, Facebook messages and Instagram photos.
If you could plan for this, what would you want to happen to your old social media profiles and potentially embarrassing Google search history? Who would you trust to carry out your decisions after you are gone?
Terry's partner Luka left him six months ago. As he sits in his usual cafe, sipping on a cup of tea, a series of unexpected condolence messages ping into his phone. Luka has died, but has appointed Terry as his digital executor, the person with the power to decide what happens to his online presence after death.
In User Not Found, a site-specific piece from Dante or Die playing at the Jeelie Piece Cafe, the audience are the other patrons of Terry's cafe, sitting round tables, listening to headphones and engrossed in smartphones. In this case, however, the gadgets are part of the show, allowing us to hear Terry's surroundings and experience his technological life - using technology to immerse the audience in the drama.
User Not Found is wisely more relaxed than the average Fringe performance, with audience members able to show up early, grab a snack from the working cafe, and settle in, with no queuing beforehand or mad rush to clear the venue at the end. When the show begins, it is without any dimming of lights or grand entrances, just a voice on the headphones, from a previously unnoticed figure in the cafe.
The personal bubble this creates is exceptionally effective, with the idea of being in public yet anonymous, of one story among many, and of never knowing what the person at the next table is going through behind their shortbread biscuits and chai lattes.
Without substance, the integration of technology runs the risk of becoming gimmicky, but thankfully, the clever production ideas are well integrated into a beautiful script by Chris Goode. It treats the painful subject matter with a lightness of touch, creating a tender, touching depiction of grief that never becomes maudlin.
Goode's script is brought to life by Terry O'Donovan, whose lovely, conversational manner is instantly endearing, even as he masks his pain with a strained smile and occasional cheeky quip - making the contrast with moments of poignant pain all the more powerful.
His performance is supported by a sublimely elegiac soundtrack and subtle atmospheric lighting, all combining to create an intimate, moving evening that will linger long in the mind after leaving the cafe.
This production is what theatre in 2018 should be - ambitious, contemporary and thought-provoking. It is a beautiful evocation of bereavement, but also a fascinating reminder of the importance of human connection. User Not Found is highly recommended, an exquisite theatrical experience that will not be forgotten in a hurry.
Photo Credit: Justin Jones