Creative bots, algorithms, and AI that pump out scripts based on the input of thousands of human-written examples have been a source of hilarity for the last few years but what if a bot was tasked with writing a play about cyberspace, the internet, itself? The output of this hypothetical is Netgirlz, an “anti-theatre” and “anti-linear” piece bringing you the thrills of the internet in the comfort of the theatre.
Writer Georgina Adamson structures the piece in two acts with a prologue and epilogue but there is little more in terms of scaffolding or narrative arc. Over the 50 minutes of the production, the cast of three (Madelaine Osborn, Jessica Murphy and Sammy Taylor), with the support of two projectors, recreate internet imagery including slightly off-centre online spaces like kink culture, sex work (specifically cam girls), and memes that translate poorly on stage. Audio-visual content from Jordan Russel presents a comprehensive conglomeration of GIFs, distorted sound and video, and screen grabs that creates an engulfing and familiar Frankenstein-esque atmosphere for the millennial audience: the internet is ALIVE! There’s a dramatic reading of a Twilight fanfiction, a personification of an inappropriate pop-up ad, and a lot of bright, flashing graphics; all the hallmarks of the typical internet experience.
The largest chunks of stage time are dedicated to two storylines: two teens catfishing each other as a girl with a tragic medical condition and Louis from One Direction and an investigation into the origin of MoMo. The former is the strongest segment of the production with a pleasant sense of nostalgia for the early days of the digital native.
Otherwise the vast majority of Netgirlz can be described as incoherent. The impetus for the production and Mikaela Atallah’s direction seems to be hollow punchlines about how weird the internet can be with no attempt at interrogation, analysis, or reaching a conclusion. The overarching threat of a bot overlord is slapped onto the tail end of a series of sketches that bring the internet to life for a fee, and is immediately resolved, hardly constituting a complication.
This critique might not be as pertinent if the production was not marketed as “An experimental new comedy exploring the blind trust we put into a beast we can’t control” which “asks all the important questions”; interests that take a back-seat to an opportunity to thrust in a unicorn mask on stage. Repeatedly throughout the script, the production refers to itself as “fucked up” to explain away the content they found when “taking a telescope and looking deep into cyberspace”. However, if furries and MoMo are the peak of your “fucked up” meter and not the proliferation of live-streaming terrorist attacks, evidence exposing police brutality and human rights violations, Facebook monopolising media distribution through viewer fraud, the way digitisation of customer service, hospitality, and retail work through companies like Uber and Amazon are deteriorating labour laws globally or any of the other horrific consequences of the current internet free-for-all, then your digital deep dive was remarkably shallow.
Netgirlz plays on the myth that the internet is an entity separate from real life and the real people who generate online content, which allows for an ironic distancing and disengagement from the negative and dangerous aspects of the technology in preference of the quirky memes. If you’re looking for a pumpkin spice perspective on the internet with less critical awareness than a 14-year-old’s TikTok account, then let Netgirlz lead the way.
Netgirlz is running at Old 505 from October 14th – 19th as part of FreshWorksFEMME