Don't switch off
15 April 2019
Nathan Dunn takes a closer look at the pixels of ARE YOU STILL WATCHING
Gogglebox must have been a difficult pitch: “let’s show people watching television to people watching television” – yet ARE YOU STILL WATCHING actually has a very alluring concept. Although it isn’t simply the Channel 4 favourite ported to the stage, there’s something seductive about seeking to interrogate our relationship with our own viewership. The presently daunting relevance of media in all its forms makes it seem like a dirty word; in a world that has evolved from Big Brother to Black Mirror, our engagement with the things we watch and why we watch them has never been more pertinent. But this piece is left full of potential and little resolve.
The show has its redeeming qualities. Moments of vulnerability and honesty are handled with a great sense of sophistication and there’s a mature use of language. However, these moments are fleeting and I feel the piece hides behind gags and gimmicks in order to make the statements it wants to make. You can toss around arguments about comedy being subjective all day long and the truth in that sentiment will never change, but nor will the naivety of when it’s clumsily constructed. It seemed to expect laughs for unimaginative reincarnations of jokes, quips and catchphrases – a practice only accentuated by some jarring audience engagement.
That’s not to say the piece should take itself more seriously. I admire its efforts. Its form (again, more so in theory than in practice) is strong. It allows the light and dark to play off each other with relative ease and with a familiar flavour to its demonstration. However, leaning comedy against harsh reality is no new trick. It’s a dichotomy that when navigated carefully can produce devastatingly brilliant works of art, although ARE YOU STILL WATCHING doesn’t seem to have come to terms with its light and dark sides fully. There’s an uneasy sense of uncertainty among cast members at times and I found myself questioning how confident they were with their own work.
I have warm feelings for ARE YOU STILL WATCHING. I’m grateful for the impressive confessional elements that were oddly touching given the context and there were theatrical devices used that I appreciate the ingenuity of. The metaphorical significance of hands reaching out the back of sofas providing assistance and the incessant sprawling of tape might not be the most intellectually provocative images, but they’re theatrically appealing all the same. The justification for my detailed investment in its shortfalls lies in my faith in its potential. It’s certainly a piece that feels like it comes from a good place, and I think with the right amount of guidance and reflection can go on to be quite a powerful piece of theatre. With a revised consideration of comedic function and in taking confident strides towards the heart of the work, I see a potentially bright future. Hopefully this festival will prove a healthy hunting ground for its faults.
Image credit: Beatrice Debney