An emoticon is a pictorial representation of a facial expression using punctuation marks and letters, usually written to express a person's mood. This emotion icon is the brilliantly appropriate word for the title of the play currently showing at the Brockley Jack Studio Theatre as part of the New Writing Season. The story follows a group of teenagers on a voyage of discovery of themselves, each other and as to how they fit in to this digital and media obsessed age.
The young adults in the story each have virtual personas that they promote through social media. They pose and pout for photos for their Facebook pages, acting out and documenting scenarios that in reality they would not actually do. One character, Tiani, a highly sexualised girl, knowingly exploits her sexual power, having learned from the projected images of media savvy celebrities, beauty advertisements and music videos. This approach often gets her into unfortunate situations with inappropriate adult men. On the other hand, James, a popular boy at school, regularly broadcasts the experiences of his latest sexual conquests to his 900 plus Facebook friends, whilst attempting to come to terms with his mother and her current sexual relations.
On entering the Brockley Jack you immediately notice the freshly painted aqua blue floor which is so shiny it reflects the backdrop of an oversized glowing computer chip, acting like the sea, an abyss of the digital age, a place where you can drown in digital communication.
The cast play several characters each, allowing them to display their wide range of acting abilities. While they all give fantastic performances, Fiona Sowole steals the show as Tiani, and Hannah Wood does a brilliant job of portraying a young woman with muscular dystrophy known as ‘Gimp Girl’.
What guarantees the plays success is the excellent writing. It is hugely witty and humorous, incredibly thought-provoking, and realistically portrays the lives of British teenagers. The way it is written allows for the performers to seamlessly narrate their own characters' hidden thoughts and emotions with a great deal of humour. Bubnic wrote Emoticon whilst studying an MA in Writing for Performance at Goldsmiths University and developed it through working closely with a group of teenagers in east London. This gives the writing its authentic and well-informed approach with believable characters and scenarios.
Some strong topics are explored including homosexuality, racism and disability, which are directed brilliantly by Omar F Okai. There is excellent use of the small stage with changing focus on characters and scenes being cleverly picked out using lighting and stage direction. However, on occasion the production felt rushed, in particular the dialogue, which is a shame as each line holds such strong merit; it would benefit from slowing down a little over all.
It must be said that I left the Brockley Jack feeling thankful that, firstly, I was no longer a teenager and that those years are well behind me, and secondly that I did not go through that difficult period in this day and age. It brought to my attention that, through social media, you are exposed yet also coveted and that your social projection is also your social protection. It’s a tool to hide behind, to avoid communicating, and you can create an online persona to live behind. But what happens when you then meet face to face with your online friend? What if there is not an emoticon to express how you feel? And what if you look too different from your carefully selected profile picture?
This fantastic piece of new writing is punchy, stimulating, hugely entertaining and, above all, laugh-out-loud hilarious. You are on an emotional journey with the characters, wanting to cry and then laugh at their predicaments on their voyage to self-discovery into adulthood. It is by far the best performance I have seen so far this year and I will be looking forward to future work by promising new play write Melissa Bubnic.