Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Preview: Dream, Sleep, Connect (Rosemary Jenkinson & c21 Theatre) – what happens when natural connection is replaced with technology?

Mars confectionery company wanted us to Work Rest and Play. Others deconstruct the monotony of adult existence to Sleep Work Repeat. But in playwright Rosemary Jenkinson’s mind, she homes in on society’s obsessions with digital disconnection with her new piece Dream, Sleep, Connect.

The premise of the play is that Chris (played by Richard Clements) is working on a technological solution for the Irish border under the beady eye of his boss, Lucy (Maria Connolly), when he realises the he has no one to invite to the office party. He joins Tinder only to find he’s met his match in more ways than one …

When I caught up with Jenkinson as rehearsals started, she explained that she feels online dating is “a very untrustworthy medium” and can lead to insecure and paranoid partners wanting to check your social media and your computer in case you’re still swiping. “It only takes one second to swipe. Whereas going out to actually pick up another partner actually requires effort. And, fingers on a screen and fingertips on your keyboard are no match for eyes across the room.”

One of Jenkinson’s heroes, Dario Fo, said that “a theatre … that does not speak for its own time has no relevance.” Her previous plays have tackled topics like finance, benefits, food banks, asylum and whistle blowing, all of them contemporary issues. And the electronic screening of potential dates isn’t so different from the faceless automation behind Chris’s company’s solution for electronic screening at the border.
“You'll get the idea that I'm fairly anti-digital age in this play …

“It's almost like Big Brother is watching has now come round to Big Self is watching me. We’re surveilling ourselves. It's narcissism in the absolute extreme. Something's gone very badly wrong. People think, you know, social media is going to last forever. Well, it absolutely won't. There'll be a revolution against this eventually because people will realize that over-computerisation is damaging for health. It's just a matter of time before that happens.”

The playwright notes that social media and online chat rooms are negatively connected with self-harm and suicide websites.
“Everything is consuming too much time on computers and there’s not enough time for personal interaction with people” she says, adding “I think my life is slightly ruled by social media, which is really annoying. I'm generally against it even though I use it for self-promotion – you're forced to in this society at the minute – but it's not by any desire of mine.”

Clements and Connolly are no strangers to Jenkinson’s plays.
“You can never be sure because they're so busy they might not be free … but both of them are brilliant. Maria gets to play Chris's boss in work as well as some of his dates and gets to swap in and out of different roles which she loves [and] she's brilliant at transforming herself into different characters.”

What’s next for Jenkinson after Dream, Sleep, Connect? The playwright also writes short stories and a new collection – Lifestyle Choice: 10 Milligrams – will be coming out soon. She enjoys the contrast between plays and stories. “I think the theatre is a bit more political, whereas the short stories are probably more personal.”

And while the quartet of Michelle and Arlene rapid-response plays are finished for now – though Jenkinson sounds like she could be tempted to pen another – she still has satire in her sights.
 “I will return to political satire at some point because there's still so much going on, particularly with Brexit, so I'm dying to get back to that.”

c21 Theatre’s new production premières in the Lyric Theatre, Belfast (18–22 February) before touring through Strule Arts Centre, Omagh (Wednesday 26), Island Arts Centre, Lisburn (Friday 28), Cushendall Golf Club (Saturday 29), Sean Hollywood Arts Centre, Newry (Tuesday 3 March), Down Arts Centre, Downpatrick (Friday 6) and Market Place Theatre, Armagh (Saturday 7).

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