Edinburgh Festival Fringe: A disturbing and powerful piece of new writing premiering at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival 2005.
Gene David Kirk's new play, All Alone
, looks at the seedy, nasty, dangerous world of the internet chat room groomer. Chatting anonymously to other people their own age can, I'm sure, seem like a haven to many lonely, vulnerable children; but how do they really know who's on the other end? Its easy to see how someone can manufacture a caring, 'listening' on-line persona and pull children in, then once they’re chatting the trust can be built and the trap sprung.
This isn't an internet chat room problem, it has been going on for years; strangers in parks, family friends, people in authority, friendly neighbours, all of these can get inside a child defences and abuse their position, what makes the internet different, and more dangerous, is the masking of clues such as gender, age, looks, voice and location and the fact that children approach it from the assumption that it is their domain not their parents; more school playground than family get-together, somewhere they feel safe from prying adults.
In All Alone, Toby Alexander and Andrew Barron each play multiple aspects of one man’s personality. Through the interplay between the fragments this person we see into his abused past, into the internal conflicts that have exploded within his head over the years and the guilt, anticipation, justification and delight as he plans and executes his latest trap. This is not a simple case of two actors representing the ‘good and evil’ men within, nor the sub-conscious and conscious; as the play progresses both move in, through and between the layers of the man’s mind, layers at times childish, transparent, comic, self-abusing and evil. The acting is tight and focused and the writing gives great credibility to what could be an opaque and stilted style; instead the audience is engrossed and engaged, like looking inside someone’s head, seeing the obvious thoughts and glimpsing the hidden ones which perhaps even the thinker does not acknowledge.
From the start we are left in no doubt that this person is a real danger; the presence of the dead girl, played with great control throughout by Charmaine Szecowka, gives that away! Masturbating over the body, vomiting over it, abusing it and even dancing cheek to cheek with it makes it crystal clear that we are watching a man who values life little and will kill again to feed his fantasy and punish the ‘stupid bitches’ who let themselves be taken in by him.
As the play moves forward we see, through the chat room dialogue, a young girl being entrapped and reeled in and yet there’s a definite twist in the tale which you wont be expecting, a form of vigilante justice as unforgivable and bleak as the man’s own crimes. Don’t get me wrong, there are some laughs along the way, laughs often cut short as the audience finds itself uncomfortable, like they were laughing at a murder scene but genuinely funny moments nonetheless.
Jessica Beck's direction brings a control and reality to the piece that makes the unusual writing style seem perfectly natural. The actors are allowed to maintain their own threads through the piece whilst being inexorably linked by movement, stance and style; through the fragments we see a complete, if dysfunctional, man. The actors are also to be commended on handling themselves (in both senses of the phrase!) so well. This is a tight, powerful piece that leaps from the stage and grabs you by the throat – or anything else it can get its hands on.
This is not a piece of theatre with a tidy ending and easy solutions; its approach is to raise questions, not to answer them. That is it's power, by breaking so defiantly through our barriers it forces us to confront a side of society that we prefer to skim over or deny. I defy you to watch this play and then not get caught up in discussing its issues – it will affect you.
All Alone can be seen at 13:00 from 4th to 28th August 2005. Venue 61 (White Belly) at the Smirnoff Underbelly, it is produced by PostScript Theatre.