Writers: People’s Company
Director: Christopher Elmer-Gorry
Reviewer: Hannah Stamp
Intensely current and controversial, the People’s Company’s production Short Changed presents a feast of difficult topics blended with humour and glitz within the fickle world of fame and reality television. Provoking us to ask difficult questions about the morality of many forms of light entertainment, while also involving the audience in the direct outcome of the storyline, this is certainly a unique form of theatre.
Set in the not so distant future, the government-funded reality television show Short Changed asks the public to vote on controversial issues and allows them to decide the fates of those involved. Whether it be terrorists creating hostage situations or the controversial behaviour of a member of government, the people have the right to hand out rewards or punishments, define the law and even take away life. Controversially, all of this is made light of in a sparkly Saturday night entertainment show more concerned with ratings than ethics.
A particular highlight was the difficult relationship between the show’s two contrasting presenters. The clearly intelligent Elle, played by Hannah Wood, has worked hard to forge a career and cares about the moral outcome of the stories featured on the show. She is paired with the charismatic Bea, played with laughs galore by Rose Webber, who shot to fame due to a lucky moment and a fiery personality. This relates nicely to the current wave of celebrities adorning our screens and magazines who are accused of being famous for simply being famous, or politicians better known for their charisma than their politics. Reality television and the rise of social media have provided anyone with a platform to success, regardless of their skills or merit, often leaving the media littered with poor examples for the younger generation to look up to.
The Drum at the Theatre Royal Plymouth continues to provide a range of diverse and unique theatre for those looking for an alternative to the usual big budget musical or ballet production. Testing the boundaries of the relationship between audience and actors, Short Changed allows those watching to manipulate the outcome of the cases presented to them by voting on them there and then, and optionally participating in an after show discussion with the cast. This cleverly emphasises the creation of a live television studio environment and allows the audience to temporarily forget they are in a theatre.
A slightly slow opening involving a few flat jokes and an over-extended Take That gag does delay the story from progressing to the meaty moments. The play certainly improved as it progressed and ends with the audience hungry to find out what happens next, both with the outcome of the final featured case and the fate of the fictional show as it is left in the lurch, much as the audience are. Some of the stories presented could certainly have been analysed more deeply and details were regularly glossed over in favour of another joke or a quick commercial break. In fairness, this is arguably a direct comment on the dumbed down nature of today’s television rather than a failure on the part of the play.
Despite a few lacking moments, this is an intriguing story, both very funny and at times deeply uncomfortable, leaving us to question how we lap up stories and television shows for cheap entertainment, neglecting the real people and feelings behind the glamour and the cameras.
Runs until 2 July 2016 | Image: Fiona Walsh