Connection breeds disconnection. Pinky creates an online persona, a superhero called Penelope, through whom she meets a guy and falls in love. But Penelope is not her; she is an avatar, an abstraction. Through Penelope, in a safe online space, Pinky can play out her IRL insecurities.
A beam of light projected onto a huge white sheet expands into a canopy of stars and we hurtle through the cosmos. The projections suffuse the small basement room, swaddling the audience in a mesmeric, lucent fog. “We live in an age where no one has to be lonely any more,” a voice says, “the internet has come to set us free”. From white ribbons of binary code Penelope comes through the sheet and stands next to Pinky, she becomes real. Issuing simple orders into her iPad – mute, pause – Pinky can control her avatar.
Pinky sits at the side playing online games while Penelope, centre stage, jogs through the virtual world responding to the encouragements of a robotic voice: “Good shot!”, she fires a bow; “Bonus point!”, she catches a token; “Nice job!”, she clenches a fist in victory. Pinky has reached level 343, but Melody Parker’s play questions whether she has actually achieved anything.
Loose Soul comes across as a series of non sequiturs – as if we have hacked into someone’s late night browsing session. There are adverts, music videos, sketches, each scene seemingly unrelated, the latest in a series of random clicks of a mouse.
Until the end, despite sparks of an overall theme of connectivity, it is difficult to work out what is going on. None of the paratactic scenes cohere, though each has something to say about our online presences: Penelope puts on pink sunglasses and, pretending to be a teacher, plays a Casio beat on a keyboard while Pinky dances and says the days of the week followed by ‘I go online’. Penelope tells us that Pinky urinated herself in a McDonalds while Pinky pleads with her to stop. If Penelope, the online version, knows the story then presumably that is because it exists online. And if it is online it is online forever.
Natalie Robbie gives Penelope a blank, mid-Atlantic drawl. She smiles an insipid smile, has no problem flirting with fellow avatar Orpheus. Pinky (Melody Parker), however, is reticent and troubled. Penelope is more permanent than Pinky’s mortal form and she is a truer representation of the person Pinky would like to be, but does she exist? Or is she only a dilution of a living thing? Her online self is more permanent, certainly, but also soulless.
Melody Parker has created a bizarre and completely distinctive world. There is Mighty Boosh oddity, the futuristic tranquillity of Spike Jonze’s Her. By the end the play has gathered itself into something cohesive as two plots emerge. Those plots are less interesting than the digital blur that Loose Soul gives life to. It is not Luddite, just wary of that gap, that disconnection, between you and @you.
Loose Soul is at Spotlites at Merchant Hall (Venue 278) until 25 August. For more information and tickets visit: https://tickets.edfringe.com/whats-on/loose-soul