See-Through is a deeply original and fresh play that invites the audience to question the impact of the YouTube phenomenon on our sense of self and what we need to do to be seen by others.
As you walk in, you see Claire Gaydon at her desk, back to the audience, on her laptop. This laptop is connected to a projection on the back wall, from which you see Claire build her YouTube channel from nothing. Largely autobiographical, the play is a documentary of her journey on the highly popular media platform. Throughout the play you never see Claire’s face in real life until the very end, which creates a suffocatingly impersonal effect that feels true of social media. While as an audience member this is disconnecting, it’s exactly the point that Claire is making – that a life of a YouTuber is actually very detached and isolated from reality.
See-Through reveals the sensational and attention-grabbing nature of our YouTube culture. When Claire’s number of subscribers increases, markedly to videos titled ‘How I lost my virginity’ and ‘Smoking Weed and having sex,’ it’s disturbing to see. In order to gain more followers and views, she increasingly shares stories of her most intimate, emotional and challenging life experiences. The play delivers its message most powerfully when the audience becomes the voyeuristic viewer, captivated by Claire’s intimate confessional, but also squirming in recognition of becoming the web-surfing casual consumer of such personal, emotional pain.
It is the shift from the initial playful and personally benign videos that include a charming Q&A interaction with her mother, to the revealing of secrets that she hasn’t even dared share with her mother that demonstrates the pressure to be self-exposing in order to be seen. For me as a millennial, it feels completely accurate to my own experience with YouTube and therefore really shocks me to witness how alienating and confusing it can be to one’s emerging sense of self.
It begins with Claire’s research into YouTube where you discover ‘PewdiePie’ is the most famous YouTuber with 66 million subscribers. A short clip of Zoella talking about all the clothes she brought from Primark provides an education for the older generation as to what it is on YouTube that is so widely consumed by teens. You then watch as Claire’s channel develops through a sequence of sound sessions, photo shoots and logo designs. This is all shown as a documentary video of these real life encounters with her photographer, sound designer and logo artist. The whole thing is cleverly put together via her phone, laptop and live performance, although some transitions are slow and bumpy since Claire is orchestrating all of this herself.
Gaydon herself is an honest and authentic actor throughout. She does well to invite the audience into her life fully – just as a YouTuber does. She is very engaging and acts with wholehearted truthfulness.
However, to me the play feels like it is still at a formative stage of development. While the central concept is compelling, the questions it asks and the emotional engagement it demands from the audience could have been taken further. I would welcome seeing it developed further, taking a deeper look at the potential impact of social media on a person’s identity and choices.
Overall, See-Through is a fresh, imaginative and thought-provoking piece performed convincingly by Gaydon. I look forward to seeing where it goes next. We need more plays that explore how our contemporary society, identity and relationships are being shaped in the age of YouTube and other social media platforms.
See-Through played at the Camden People’s Theatre until 27 April. For more information, visit the Camden People’s Theatre website.