We meet at the Jeelie Piece Café on Leven Street. The barista comes around with a menu and we can order drinks up until the start of the show. We’re provided with a mobile phone and told to put the headphones on when the phone tells us to. And then we sit and wait for a bit. A lady at my table orders an Americano. Another orders some tap water for the table and pours me a glass. We’re given the indication, headphones go on, and we don’t speak to each other now for about 70 minutes. A bunch of strangers in a café, connected only through the headphones we wear and phones that we hold.
We hear a voice. A man begins speaking in our ears as we listen to the ambient café sounds swirling around behind him. It’s a man in the café. He gets up and introduces himself. His name is Terry. And through the sounds from our headphones, the images, videos and social media feeds through the phones, and the intimacy between ourselves and the performer in this immersive performance, he tells us a story about the digital legacy of his ex-boyfriend Luka. Terry has been chosen as his Online Legacy Executor and, with the push of a big red button, has 90 days to make a choice following his death: to keep his digital legacy (his apps, his messages, all his social media accounts) or to delete them.
The choice to set the play in a real life café sets the tone of the story really effectively. We share our experience with the people around us; a bit like when everyone watches the same viral YouTube video on the tube. We experience the same thing, but we don’t really talk about it with each other. We’re isolated with our own screens, our own headphones. It also sets the reminder that everyone sitting in any café at any time has his or her own story to tell.
We soon discover that the shaded table lamps that we just assume are a part of the café’s design are in fact controlled by the show’s technical team who dim or brighten them, turn them all off, or just keep light a single lamp as Terry (Terry O’Donovan) sits or stands at the various tables. Zia Bergin-Holly’s lighting and set design also makes use of florescent blue lights, which project from underneath the tables, lighting the whole room with that a misty version of the blue light emitted from our phones.
Donovan performs sequences of movement, as he waves around the café in slow-motion. These moments seem a little odd in a production that is so purposefully devoid of touch; the physical seems out of place. There are times when the story becomes a little long-winded or relies a little heavily on its technical sophistication. Luckily, the warmth, commitment and presence of O’Donovan keep us firmly engaged from start to finish.
User Not Found is playing Jeelie Piece Café as part of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival until 26 August 2018. For more information and tickets, click here.
Photo: Justin Jones