Twenty years ago the internet was in its infancy. The ability to communicate with other people online was pretty much restricted to ICQ, Yahoo Messenger and, if my memory doesn’t fail me, rudimentary chat rooms such as the ones ninemsn hosted. These would seem quaint and antiquated to the youth of today. Of course, back then there was no such thing as smart phones, tablets or any number of different devices that make cyberspace so portable now. Then you were anchored to a PC that probably had less computing power than your average iPhone.
What’s fascinating about this play, however, is that despite the technological advances the issues are identical for a new generation - connection, instant gratification (sexual or otherwise), loneliness, addiction, the blurring of fantasy and reality, the anonymity of hiding behind an avatar or user name, role-playing. It’s a world I am intimately familiar with having experienced it and even written a feature film script about (The Tangled Web) that was optioned a couple of times but ultimately never made it to the big screen.
Unlike my generation where such things were really a novelty, today’s youth expects such inter-connectivity and ease of use with untold applications in the palm of their hand. Apps like Tinder, Snapchat, Skype, Facebook, Instagram, Tumblr, Twitter, Grindr, you name it. Today’s social currency is likes and retweets; reblogs and swipes; how many followers you have. The complete immersion in this world magnifies all the pros and cons of online forms of communication which is what Talk Dirty To Me explores.
Ash (Owen Lane) chats with Sam (Reilly O’Byrne-Inglis) who proudly exclaims that she likes to flirt. The conversations are overtly sexual in nature though occasionally intimate in their way. Meanwhile, Teig Sadhana plays a character who seeks acceptance and recognition through a proliferation of applications. His mood is dictated by how successful or not he is in this quest. Eventually Ash demands to meet Sam feeling a connection even though they have never had physical contact. The meeting expectedly doesn’t go as expected.
Anyone with even a passing understanding of the internet will soon figure out the trajectory of the story. It is well trodden ground over the last decade. While somewhat predictable it is well acted and presented. Lane plays Ash with adolescent exuberance while O’Byrne-Inglis is indeed flirtatious and amusingly dismissive when required. Sadhana gives an at times wide-eyed enthusiasm to his role then crashing despondency. All have a smart phone constantly in hand or nearby. It is after all the fashion accessory de rigueur.
There are two aspects that piqued my interest – a fourth, wordless character played by Rian Howlett whose presence I initially took to be corporeal but who turns out to be far more symbolic. He engages at different points of the play in stylised dance with each of the other three characters in turn. Given the seductive then violent nature of their movements I took this to literally be the love-hate relationship with the internet that can sometimes afflict us all. Howlett was a most charismatic figure in these moments.
Then there is the blink and you’ll miss it coda right at the very end. This was an intriguing button on a play that runs only a little over 30 minutes. If this was to be expanded to a full one act play then exploring the ramifications of Ash’s last uttered words and actions would form the backbone of the second half.
Talk Dirty To Me is a newer generation’s take on a burgeoning social problem that started twenty years ago – does too much connection leave us more isolated than ever? A The Cutting Room Floor production directed by Casey Elder from a concept by Elder and Chris Brain, it is on at The Stables until 31 January.