Creators: Daphna Attias and Terry O’Donovan
Writer: Chris Goode
Director: Daphna Attlas
Freud writes that the best way to move on from grief when a loved one has died is to let go. He understands that mourning is not an easy process, as the griever, instinctively it seems, wants to hold on to what has gone rather than surrender it. Freud sees mourning as physical and mental work, but also a necessary labour if the griever is to survive. User Not Found, an imaginative video podcast by Dante or Die, examines how we mourn in the digital age where traces of the dead live on within social media.
Designed to be watched and listened to on a smart phone, the story of Terry grieving after the death of his lover makes for an eerie and moving experience. When viewed in portrait, Terry’s phone becomes your phone, and it looks so convincing that you may try to press the apps on the screen. With headphones in your ears you sit in a cafe with Terry and his peppermint tea, playing white noise through his phone to drone out the ubiquitous Norah Jones, herself the white noise of coffee shops.
Terry’s ex has died, but his mourning is complicated by the email he receives informing him that he is Luka’s online legacy executer. It is up to Terry to decide what becomes of Luka’s Facebook profile, his Twitter account, his Whatsapp messages, and his Grindr app. Terry begins the impossible task of sorting out posts and Tweets, of scrolling through pictures posted when they were together. However, this show isn’t about what we leave behind, but about who we leave behind.
The deeper Terry digs into Luka’s archive, the rawer his grief becomes. To Terry’s chagrin, important dates in their relationship are not recorded on Luka’s social media. Instead there is a steady stream of gifs, memes, and links to mediocre piano ballads. Terry loses Luka twice over.
As Terry, Terry O’Donovan perfectly captures a man in a personal battle for survival; it could be easy for him to slip into madness, or in Freudian terms, melancholia. The humour, and in places O’Donovan is very funny, ensures that these 55 minutes are not too maudlin, but these moments highlight other moments of despair when Terry has to decide what to keep and what to delete.
Yaniv Fridel’s sound design is so clear that you may have to remove the earphones to make sure no one has entered your room, and the images and graphics that appear on your screen are smooth and creative. First performed in Edinburgh in 2018 in front of a live audience, this adaptation created for lockdown, fits, literally, into the palm of your hand.
It seems that no one else in Terry’s life knows that he is grieving, and although we begin as eavesdroppers, listening to Terry tell his story, by the end we feel connected as he reaches out to us, for us. User Not Found is a powerful examination of loss, and a moving study of loneliness. It’s perfect for our times.
Runs here until February 2021