Brad Checked In – Paula Noble and the price of on-line love. (Theatre Review)

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Brad Checked In 

Old Fitzroy Theatre 3 – 21 June

You can grab your tickets here

Images used in this post are by Katy Green Loughrey

I used to be a social media hound and then one day I turned it all off, and I’ve worn that moment of power like a badge of honour ever since. It’s not easy to cut the addiction, but if you can do it (I did that band-aid thing – one pull, right off) the world opens up for you in a way you didn’t understand before you became addicted, a bit like taste returning to a smoker or money starting to build up in the account of an ex drug user. I didn’t know life could be so interesting, until I immersed myself in the hypnotic banality and the pointless busy-ness of social media and the removal of its ugliness woke me up to what lay beyond it. Depth is the enemy of Facebook, Twitter and the like, and I didn’t understand the importance of depth until I had eschewed it for that couple of years I “checked in.” My experience, it seems, is the same all people have on social media, seeing as it perfectly mirrored Paula Noble’s  Brad Checked In. It’s all so exciting at first, new flames, old flames, electronically delivered eroticisms masked as real people, gossip, intrigues and even some intelligent people willing to talk about fascinating subjects. But it doesn’t take long and you’re fighting battles you don’t understand, dealing with abuse and a level of maliciousness you didn’t invite and caught in the convoluted tangle of not being able to distinguish the world around you from the world on-line – which are two very different places.

We first meet Brad (Yannick Lawry) when he is newly separated from the wife (Kate Englefield) he should never have married, but did out of spinelessness. He is missing her, mourning the death of the connection, but at least he is the one who left, having finally had enough of the pushy nit-picking he mustn’t have minded so much early on. Brad’s a bit caught up in everyone’s breeze it seems, which partly explains how he could get trapped in a marriage when he had a crush on someone else, and why he is the ideal candidate for Facebook, something his best mate Grub (Daniel Bunton) suggests will excite him out of his funk. On his best friends advice, Brad decides to “check in”. This is where all the problems start. Right away, Brad thinks he can juggle the women that come his way on-line, but this confidence dissipates as soon as he is forced to confront real life. His wife makes her way into his new house in an attempt to reconcile and ensure he doesn’t pick up, and the women coming at him left, right and centre on-line assume they’re the only one he’s interested in, despite the fact that they’ve used social media to spread their own lies, half-truths or misleading “facts” themselves. No one is being honest about their real lives, and soon Brad is confronting more than just his own deteriorating relationship.

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Paula Noble has written a very funny satire with Brad Checked In, that works primarily as a comedy of errors about modern relationships and the way people have become so easily disposable, thanks to the ease with which we are picking up on-line. Steven Tait ramps the pace up as the play progresses, so that it becomes more and more like an online experience, people popping in and out, OL stalkers turning into RL stalkers, and people knowing everyone elses business, and assuming the rest.  The bar at the end of the play where all worlds collide has Noble’s clever lines bouncing around like tweets folding each over the other, and Brad losing track of banter when it isn’t written down in front of him. Voice overs bring the online world into the experience of Brad as if they were something real, which of course they are, but they also are not. Eventually it is hard to distinguish lies from facts, which perfectly mirrors the way the online world takes over the real world without our ever really seeing it.

Yannick Lawry is obviously having a wonderful time as Brad, masterfully in control of his many lines, and comfortably carrying the play on his shoulders. Tait gives him the option to write his own endings each night, which makes for an unusual theatre experience, and gives Lawry the chance to subvert audience expectations. But it also gives him the freedom to immerse into Brad, owning the character, and this shows in the performance quality. Daniel Bunton is a wily if devious Grub, part best friend, part pusher in his role as the person who introduces Brad to the online world and Kate Englefield is very strong as Maggie, one of the few performances where every word was clear so it was a comfort to have her precision present. Imogen French fills the stage with her wonderfully cougar-esque Di and her scene of passion with Andrew George as Gary is one of the funniest in the play. Celia Kelly makes for a thankfully sane Rebecca whose cry of “how could I have been so stupid” toward the end is just about the only true voice of reason in the show.

Brad Checked In is a wonderfully current take on the mess social media can make of our lives and a relevant respondent to it’s all consuming acceptance that will have you chatting with your friends about its themes, long into the night.

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