Against a pixellated Manhattan skyline at sunset (the perfect backdrop for an Internet seduction) Joe Fox and Meg Ryan talk and flirt to escape their meat-puppet bodies. It’s a modern love story: two people fall in love anonymously online without knowing that, in real life, they are rival bookshop owners. In Ang Collin’s and Sarah Hadley’s retelling of the classic 1990s romcom, though, Meg_Ryan and Tom_Hanks are a lot, lot weirder.
The action starts understandably with Meg_Ryan (Ella Prince) revelling in her love of this new fandangle contraption for connection: the Internet (Sophia Campion). She’s met Tom_Hanks (Chris Ratcliffe) in an over-30s chatroom, enjoyed his advice and how well he listens to her musings about existentialism, and now she wants to move things into a saucier context. Tom_Hanks is less enthusiastic about the computer presence he’s brought into his home as it begins to listen, respond, and even punish him for his online indiscretions. The dialogue is absolutely hilarious as the triangle between Meg, Tom, and the Internet becomes more confusing and weighted with every available update. Meg and Tom attempt physical connection through metaphorical dog sex (eventuating in Tom’s ban from the chatroom) and the Internet uses the words of Stevie Wonder to express her underlying human feelings.
Prince’s Meg is sharp and unpredictable in her attachments but her naivety towards the intentions of the Internet and her new chat friend are charming. It’s a reminder of the 90s when we were all getting used to what the Internet could do for us in ways of connection and socialising. Updates were exciting and the idea of deconstructing privacy barriers between yourself and cyberspace was still thrillingly innovative instead of invasive and sinister. Picture the original Meg Ryan as high-strung, hyperactive, and flinchy but with the same underlying independence and softness. Instead of the girl next door, Meg_Ryan is the off-kilter cousin you didn’t know existed until your 11th birthday party when your mum made you invite her.
Tom_Hanks, otherwise known as Joe Fox, is a more vaguely characterised love-interest with an absurd plan to rob Meg_Ryan of her business and thus win her love and adoration. He’s aggressive, selfish, crude and much more of a villain than lovers of the original movie would like to believe. His electrocution is a satisfying ending to the approximately 45 minutes he spent harassing and manipulating Meg_Ryan. His characterisation and direction has considerably less charm than his partner, which makes the relationship feel strained unintentionally, unfortunately.
The real hero of this production is literally the Internet. Campion has a presence throughout the production as the voice of the Internet with a truly excellent “robot” voice and a sass that compliments Meg_Ryan perfectly. The Internet exposes Meg_Ryan to the possibilities of cyberspace for expanding her business and herself Matrix-style to the very ends of time and technology.
In terms of design, the technology in this production lives up to the focus on the modern world. Nick Fry’s design is soft and well inspired by the original film. With such a tight space, the lighting and sound are able to shine. It’s not often that a show uses a full blue wash and full green wash at different points without becoming amateur and simplistic. Ben Freeman has some real fun with the sound design, integrating sound bites, familiar love songs, and computerised reproductions into a Postmodern soundscape akin to anyone’s Internet scrolling soundtrack.
While you might think you know this story, Collins’s and Hadley’s twist on these characters is wildly unusual and their actions odd in the extreme. Quirky seems too subtle a word for the places this production will take you beside the beach in Bondi. It’s funny, sharp, weird, and written for those still searching for some satisfaction online.
You’ve Got Mail ran at the Little Theatre in the Bondi Pavilion for Bondi Feast from July 17th – 19th.