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At The Playroom on Wednesday, crowds of kitted-out waterproof wearers attended Lancaster University Theatre Group’s final night of Enda Walsh’s ‘Chatroom’. Despite the torrential rain Lancaster was subjected to that evening, the show was a sell-out, giving me high hopes for what I was about to see. With no prejudices or knowledge of the show, and having never seen an LUTG production myself, this was a very fair debut for the group.
Six boxes, one empty. As I took to my seat, five out of six characters were already on stage, confined to their bedrooms, with one solitary box consumed with darkness. This clever use of staging and props allowed the group to display some foreshadowing in relation to the upcoming treatment and future of central character, Jim. The introduction of characters before the audience had settled was a very brave move by the performers. I can only imagine the sense of awkwardness they perhaps felt, yet this intensity proved successful in initiating the kind of sombre tone in which the play would revel in for the next hour.
With the smell of alcohol and Haribo strawbs resonating amongst the audience, the production began. Debates over J. K. Rowling, Willy Wonka, and whether Britney is a true icon occupied conversation, whilst the actors spoke to a fourth wall to indicate their commentary between one another via an online chatroom. Although truly comical and humorous at times, some of the actors were so heavily invested in their character that they lost their ability to make the humour as successful as it could have been, a shame since the play’s themes required some light relief at times.
Whilst the rain outside persisted to fall and make the acoustics of The Playroom conflicted, the actors soldiered on, projecting their voices loud enough so we could still here. In spite of these possible setbacks, the performers delivered their lines filled with dynamics relevant to current, societal issues. Highlighting the nature of stereotypes, fiction versus reality, the LGBTQ+ community, religion, cyberbullying, and most of all, mental health problems in youth, it is safe to say Chatroom aims to participate in shedding light on a variety of topics that perhaps are still taboo in some households today.
In this way, Chatroom is not just about our online behaviours in a technologically advanced culture, but also aims to hit a nerve with viewers in making the conversation between the teenagers prone to relevance by its inclusion of several themes. Although it is exceedingly crucial to name-drop these sort of topics in our society, Chatroom to me almost desensitises their prominence. More of a critique on the play itself, the script attempts to concoct as many societal problems as it possibly can into one hour, making the show ‘a little about lot’; this removes the integrity at which we should approach said topics, as Walsh’s creation mirrors that of a list of hot debatable matter, rather than exploring them for a much deeper education. Subsequently, the show for me did not work as effectively as it could, since it could have delved much further into the most relevant area of mental health and suicide that the plots sustains around.
Despite the show’s indecisive focus, Chatroom by LUTG showcased a delightful interpretation of the original play. With engaging utilisation of the stage, set, lighting and sound, LUTG really did involve us in the struggles of the teenage experience.