Pretty Ugly started as YouTube experiment, questioning the growing trend of young girls posting videos asking the online community to rate them based on their looks. In her show, Louise Orwin uses multimedia to tell us the story of how she created three online personas and experienced what it was like to be the victim of trolling.

Pretty Ugly was performed at Lincoln Performing Arts Centre as a part of Lincoln’s Frequency Festival, a celebration of digital culture, and Orwin’s means of storytelling makes this show relevant to the festival as a contemporary piece of theatre, not only as an exploration of the digital generation. Orwin offers a series of vignettes to illustrate her journey, showing footage from YouTube and messenger sites on a large screen at the back of the stage in between conversing with her toys and delivering monologues in internet speak. The speeches are superbly written, brutal yet poetic (although one is shockingly revealed to be verbatim later in the show), and there really is nothing more ironic than some saying “smiley face” out loud in a deadpan tone. Individually, her scenes are bold and moving statements that remind us that a lot of the young girls involved in this cyber abuse are just children, and that the internet can be a dangerous place when this naivety is taken advantage of. Unfortunately, switching from projection to live stream to microphone isn’t easy, and the show struggles structurally to flow smoothly from one segment into the next without losing a lot of momentum.

Orwin opens the show dressed up like a Barbie princess lip-syncing to Britney Spears, then multiple times throughout she strips down to her leotard, changing into other stereotypically sexy guises. Visually, Orwin slowly disappears and as the audience members are given cue cards to narrate scenes, she allows them to take over. But then she reasserts herself: in a strong but simple statement, she tells the audience this is her show. She tells us that although these are alter egos she created on the internet, she often felt like it was her being attacked. So despite my feeling that her performance is emotionally somewhat detached from the audience’s point of view, it’s understandably so. Orwin’s multimedia looking glass into this phenomenon does feel like the show has a suit of armour surrounding it. Creating this atmosphere is quite an achievement – a palpable reflection on the thinness of the fourth wall provided by a computer screen.

The content is insightful and challenging, and possibly even verging on uncomfortable viewing amongst certain young audience members; I’ve never seen a show so in tune with our generation before. And although it’s not brilliantly constructed, it is important, and I applaud Orwin’s bravery for not just this show, but the entire project.

Pretty Ugly was performed at the Lincoln Performing Arts Centre as part of the Frequency Festival. For more information see the Lincoln Performing Arts Centre website.