Over the course of an hour, Elena Voce Siriani and Saskia Marland of the Urban Foxes Collective guide you first to the cultish ‘Altar of the Self’, before taking a microscope to how young adults construct and self-destruct their idea of self. A tonally varied show with a wholesome number of timely jokes used to blow open our social aspirations, Be Better will make you thoroughly question your internet idols.
On initially entering the space, Elena and Saskia themselves invite you to join in their worship at the altar. This sequence is unsettling enough for early warning bells to start ringing. A carefully pitched scene in which the two girls take turns defining themselves reveals that there is a wide power gap between them, and all the dangers of a modern cult threaten.
The strength of the show is an ability to play to its particular audience. Though this covered the demographic of the audience, I don’t doubt that it would peel the scabs off the insecurities of most internet savvy 20-somethings, for whom social media has been such an important part of their fledgling years into adulthood.
About midway through the show, nervous Altar of the Self newbie Saskia is asked to make her testimony. We hear about the day that she discovered Elena’s inspirational Instagram presence. These events lead to her conversion. It isn’t a special day, but the typical day of an individual post-university, gesturing at her social networks to appreciate her for being herself. The monologue is full of wry observational digs at the procrastination generation of the 20-something, a trick that is dangerously obvious and easy, but is pulled off well enough to feel a personal criticism of the intended audience member.
We too see why Elena’s life is so desirable: she is contagiously confident, has all the answers, is scorchingly beautiful, and is internet famous. The girls have done enough for us to empathise when Saskia loses herself, attempting to converge her own personality with this intricately crafted internet persona.
The show’s climax relies on a figurative image that I found too heavy-handed. The power play between the two characters crumples in a manner that I couldn’t buy into. I would question whether Elena needs to be humanised in order to show that she is just a persona, when Saskia’s plight is so successfully applicable to everyone in that age bracket who is active on social media.
This show is well worth catching for its intelligent satire of a generation’s detrimental efforts to cure vulnerabilities through self-betterment, the nuanced development of the relationship between the two characters, and for a therapeutic ability to get you laughing at our frightening reliance on social networking to establish ourselves in these prime years.
Be Better played at Camden People’s Theatre.