Writer: Mike Kenny
Director: Owen Calvert-Jones
One of the great ironies of living in one of the big bustling cities is just how lonely they can make you feel. There are people everywhere you turn (at least there were until a few months ago) but all of them are strangers, so busy with their own lives that it can make you seem invisible. This is exactly how 10-year old Lola feels in Mike Kenny’s Random Selfies as she tries to navigate school and family while never really feeling accepted.
Available to stream via the (new) Brixton House website, staged earlier this year at the (old) Ovalhouse, this story is aimed at 7-13 year olds who have relatively little theatre made just for them. Other than panto, most children’s theatre tends to be for pre-school, leaving this formative age group somewhere between the CBeebies stage adaptations and the teenage pining of GSCE Shakespeare.
Loretta (known as Lola) is a lonely child, teased by her brother and ignored by the cooler girls in her class. When new girl Maya joins the school, the pair becomes friends and Lola tells a significant lie. Unexpectedly invited to a makeover party Lola’s confidence soars and she turns to kindly neighbour Mrs Thing to help her prepare.
This is an archive recording of Random Selfies so the fixed position camera in the front row of seating often feels quite far away from the action without being able to zoom in or offer alternative angles on the show. The digitally animated set designed by Rachana Jadhav is barely visible even in full-screen mode, but the viewer can just make out some of the interesting animations and images created to support the narrative.
So, it is up to an excellent Christina Ngoyi to win the audience over, performing as Lola narrating the story as well as playing her in dramatically constructed scenes where she must also enact as many as three or four different characters at once. Kenny’s endearing tale is brought to life with empathy for its main character, but it never patronises the intended audience, openly discussing complicated subjects including the limited means of the family and, of course, growing mental health pressures.
These are enhanced by an understanding of the role social media plays in defining how young people engage with external influences, and when Lola ponders the point of taking a picture without her in it, older viewers will note how generation-defining the selfie has become and the effect of sites like Instagram in providing a shallow version of real life – something Lola learns when she finally meets the cool girls and understands how she too has separated herself.
When Lola says “I am never alone but I am lonely” the impression of her invisibility feels dehumanising but learning to enjoy your own company is something we have all had to learn since the crowds disappeared. Full of the texture of Lola’s life, Random Selfies is an enjoyable and well-told story capturing the unheard voice of the pre-teen girl trying to find her place and herself.
Available here until 11 June 2020