Review: Flavour Text, Chronic Insanity
3.0Overall Score

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We’ve all found ourselves in weird corners of the internet at times when we should be doing something else. But what if, during a visit to some forgotten forum, we stumbled across a genuine mystery?

This is the premise of Flavour Text. The show is an immersive online experience that really barely qualifies as theatre, other than the fact that it is being staged by theatre company Chronic Insanity. It is the fourth show in the Nottingham-based group’s plan to stage 12 shows in 12 months, which is being done to ‘develop a huge amount of theatre makers’ in Nottingham.

The play starts on the website at an Italian restaurant (“Tastea”) which, the showrunners tell you, is your favourite place to eat. But something is not right: the restaurant has been closed for a while. Soon, after navigating several more mocked up websites, you learn that the restaurant’s owner, Graham Adams, is missing. Thus begins a mystery that will see the viewer adopt the role of online sleuth, as you delve deeper and deeper into a world of online forums, “Twooter” and “Moospace” pages, as well as secretive groups on the dark web.

The whole show takes about an hour to complete. It requires some serious close reading in order to make sure that you don’t miss whichever comment or post on a given website contains the relevant detail needed to continue your journey. This means that, despite the fascinating premise, the experience can feel a little arduous. The thread of the mystery which we are supposed to follow sometimes feels a little thin. And the reward for our hard work is simply another website, which ultimately can only trigger a limited depth of emotional response.

Nevertheless, the attention to detail throughout the show is remarkable. There is a huge amount of content and website design elements, the majority of which have no direct relevance to the plot, and are simply there to generate a sense of actuality. Flavour Text really captures the notion that the internet is a big and scary place, with various pitfalls and traps that the unthinking user can find themselves falling into.

Written by Megan Gates, Charlotte Holder, Ruth Mestle, Harry Smith and Sophie Whitebrook, the passion and the skill at storytelling involved in the show’s creation is clear to see throughout. But while it is always exciting to see the online medium being explored in exciting new ways, Flavour Text is not quite an effective surrogate for the magic of real-life actors performing a script and inviting you into their theatrical world.

Flavour Text is streaming until 31 December 2021. For more information, see Chronic Insanity online.