15 April 2019

Joseph Winer on the televisual stories of ARE YOU STILL WATCHING


Are we still watching?

I don’t really watch much television. Part of this is probably because I don’t own a television. But with Netflix, iPlayer, etc., I can access most content online anyhow. I think part of this might be because I live in London where the streets are loud, the people are loud, the tube stations are loud…and by the time I get back in, I’ve been so overwhelmed with the city’s noises that I just want some peace and quiet.

But I wonder if our engagement with television in general is changing at the moment? In recent times, we’ve seen Black Mirror giving viewers control over the fate of its protagonist, Fleabag breaking the fourth wall and making references to it, soap operas making live episode specials. Even the way we consume television has changed: the ability to binge-watch a whole series on the day of its release, for example.

ARE YOU STILL WATCHING (notice the caps and lack of question mark), devised by The Arden School of Theatre, deconstructs the characters and imagery from a range of television programmes, playing with the bridges between character, persona, celebrity and idol. On the stage in front of us, the actors play dress-up, revealing characters from Blackadder, Ru Paul’s Drag Race and Game of Thrones, amongst others. They very visibly and on stage change into costume. They vocalise famous lines. They sing the theme tune to Family Guy. And then a wig comes off. The foil shimmer curtain is birthed from the Gogglebox-style sofa. The “sad bit” happens and the actors stimulate tears by rubbing onions against their eyes. The television medium collapses in front of us. The truth rises to the surface and we witness the falsities behind the television magic.

But not all the characters are in on the act. A horse head is attached to the tea trolley from Father Ted and one of the character’s becomes distressed when the inanimate horse fails to respond. She falls to the floor and wails, in what I found to be perhaps the most striking moment of the show. The audience has suspended its disbelief. It is not until we are told the horse is dead that the horse is actually dead. And then we laugh.

In tonight’s performance, actors frequently failed to stand in the spotlight and voices were lost under music that was too loud. Within a show that plays with technology so heavily in its concept – a microphone replaced by a hairbrush fails to make much noise over two men ranting about cars – it feels like a trick was missed in the way they play with light and sound. I wonder if these moments of error were intentional? They felt like genuine mistakes, which is a shame as the technologies of live performance could have been experiment with a little more.

ARE YOU STILL WATCHING’s title doesn’t ask us, it tells us. We don’t have a choice. There’s no standby on live performance. It ends when it –

@noffmag[email protected]

Image credit: Beatrice Debney