Review: EXPELLED Explores the Impact of Social Media at the Baxter Golden Arrow Studio

The new play from Rosalind Butler and How Now Brown Cow runs at the Baxter until 2 March.

By: Feb. 17, 2024
Review: EXPELLED Explores the Impact of Social Media at the Baxter Golden Arrow Studio
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EXPELLED is a brand-new play from Rosalind Butler, and it deals with just how damaging social media can be for all ages. The characters in the play and the story feel incredibly relatable as many of us spend time questioning how much we live our lives through social media.

The crux of the story revolves around how social media and smartphones have changed the way we live - and whether or not that is a good thing. The audience is faced with a family that seems fairly normal - a young boy (Nicolas Hattingh) in a prestigious boarding school, mom (Charmaine Weir-Smith) supportive of their son being himself but also addicted to Facebook, dad (Antony Coleman) working every angle he can to ensure that they can afford this school. Then the news breaks that the son has been filmed in an incident that could well result in him and his friends being expelled from the school.

The incident in question is one of those moments that has happened time and time again in these kinds of situations - young people feeling bored and not under adult supervision. The morality of the incident must definitely be called into question, but what is also looked at in this piece is how different the world is for people in school today. Those of us who made it through school before phones with cameras and social media didn't fall under the same scrutiny and most likely got away with a lot more than kids do today. Not that I'm saying that it was right for kids to get away with morally questionable behaviour... It's just a very different world, with very different problems to worry about. Another major question is about cancel culture - should you be punished or judged so severely for laughing at a joke about a serious topic? Does this make you a bad person who should be "cancelled"?

I found the desperation of the three characters so real to watch on stage. They are all in a situation where they feel trapped and the emotion is tangible. A lot of time must have been spent finding that connection as a family and finding the right way to sit in those emotions in relation to each other. Hats off to all of them and to director Craig Freimond.

One part of the script that I felt didn't work for me was the monologues about the addictive and seductive nature of social media that were delivered by the mom. These seemed to step outside of the reality of the piece, which was incredibly compelling, and I found that jarred with the flow of the play. It just didn't work for me.

I do have to commend the team of Kieran McGregor, Daniel Rutland Manners and Keaton Ditchfield for their execution of audio visual elements in the play. This can so easily go wrong - becoming clunky or having timing issues with the live action on stage. For EXPELLED, there was none of that. The performances of the on-screen characters matched with those on stage, and the timings worked seamlessly. It felt completely natural.

EXPELLED  feels like an important addition to the conversation on the power that social media has in our lives. It's on at the Baxter until 2 March and tickets are available via Webtickets. The show then moves to the Market Theatre in Joburg 7-31 March. Tickets for that run are also available via Webtickets.

Photo credit: Daniel Rutland Manners