Getting It Productions’ new piece Like markets itself as “an event presenting an art exhibition and performances based around the coming-of-age experiences of modern day twenty-something’s in the wake of the explosion of social media”. Performed for two nights at Canal Mills, this infusion of art, music and theatre was an evening I enjoyed far more than I was expecting.
Canal Mills, having played host to Backbreak Theatre’s Two Gents in 2013, is fast becoming the new hot spot for student theatre in Leeds. Artistic curators Patrick Hands and Zoe Blair did a great job at transforming its somewhat eerie space into a cosy and inviting environment, with lights dotted over the ceiling and a pretty, trestle-style divider separating the stage and art exhibition.
Director Oliver Myers fused a song cycle ‘Edges’ (written in 2005 by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul) with his own original short comedy ‘Blind Match’ (“based around the use of a mobile app for dating”). The result was a two act musical dominated by four actors (two male, two female) who chartered the highs and lows of living in the age of social media. The music itself was loud and unapologetic, slightly reminiscent of Rent or Spring Awakening with its contemporary feel and coming-of- age motifs. Though the lyrics were a little obvious they ﬁtted well with Myers’ script and the whole thing did feel like a legitimate all-in-one musical.
Like’s best asset was undoubtedly its actors. Particular mention must go to Becky Downing and her ﬂawless rendition of ‘Man of my Dreams’; a song in which she deﬁantly overcomes the realisation that her boyfriend is gay. Coupled with some camped up cameos from James Pegg and Sam McCagherty, this number was easily the highlight of the show. Also worth a mention was James Pegg’s solo ‘In Short’. He delivered an outstanding performance, bitterly and hilariously depicting all the ways he’d like his ex to die. The entire audience was in stitches and both his timing and vocals were impeccable.
Sadly, Myers’ Blind Match script didn’t make an appearance until too far into the ﬁrst half, meaning the initial hour or so was too song heavy, leaving the show feeling a little unbalanced. This was a shame as these sections of dialogue were when the audience properly engaged with the show’s content. In these moments, audience and performer were brought together in a sort of conscious union, and all laughed together at the absurdity of the characters’ incessant and amusing social media usage.
The set too could certainly have been improved. Though the simplicity of a bare stage and four blocks was perfectly adequate, I would have liked to see this piece performed in the round or in traverse. This would have heightened the social media driven vulnerability the characters were trying to express. In addition, costume choices were rather underwhelming, the actors wearing white T-shirts sporting hashtags such as ‘#readytobeliked,’ adding to the piece’s sense of cliché.
This is not to say this production wasn’t immensely enjoyable, and in spite of its clichéd subject matter and occasional aesthetic hiccups, its ease of viewing and talented cast meant I was soon swept up in its charm. What I found most intriguing – and impressive – about this show was that despite its addressing of one of the most popular subject matters today, it is perhaps the only piece of theatre I’ve seen that has made me seriously think about my own social media addiction. Perhaps it was something to do with the way Like explicitly didn’t make any brash statements about the horrors of Generation Y or the despicable way in which we are all glued to our screens. Instead, its uncomplicated method of simply showing us, in a light-hearted and amusing fashion, the odd realities of our social media society meant it left its audience with a feeling of unexpected enlightenment.
Like has the burning potential to be an amazing show. The talent, music, and sentiment are all there. With a few aesthetic tweaks and a little more direction it could transcend its current status into something truly remarkable.