Some productions are born online, some achieve online productions and some have online productions thrust upon them. In 2020, the latter has been the reality for many productions forced to take their shows online. Bringing theatre into people’s homes digitally has had mixed results — some shows managed to take four walls and create the same atmosphere as a four hundred-seater auditorium, whilst others didn’t even make it through the front door. User Not Found offers you the chance to have the theatre at your fingertips, quite literally.
User Not Found premiered two years ago at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, rebranding now as a video podcast made to be viewed on your mobile phone from the comfort of your own home. This piece poses the question of what happens to your online presence when you die: would you want to be immortalised by the hundreds of tweets and pictures you shared or would you rather your social media accounts be laid to rest with your body?
Technology and social media aren’t necessarily synonymous with humanity and sincerity, so for a show rooted in both of these things I am a little shocked at how touched I am by this piece. This show understands the key difference in telling your audience to get on board and inviting them to, a concept never more important than when delivering theatre in the privacy of people’s homes.
Chris Goode’s writing and Terry O’Donovan’s narration convey the heartfelt sentiment at the centre of this piece beautifully, with both coming together to create something truly poetic and magical. In a theatre, it’s easy to laugh and cry at timely intervals because you’ve got your fellow audience members to cue you, but sitting alone and unprompted in my bedroom, I still find myself laughing and gasping at both the comedic and philosophical elements of this script, all delivered by O’Donovan with a friendly air that eradicates any awkwardness that the digital format may pose.
Beyond the words speaking through my headphones, the visual and sound design in this piece plays a big part in its success. My senses are fully immersed, with visuals that seemingly mirror my phone, transforming my screen into a living, breathing storybook, whilst Yaniv Fridel’s sound design guides me through this story, lifting me out of my room to join my narrator on this journey.
Up until tonight, elements of touch between actors and audiences in online productions seemed pointless to me. Yet, when the play invites me to touch my hand to the screen to virtually connect with my narrator, I find myself reaching out. Why? Because my emotional investment manages to override any prejudged assumptions of awkwardness, leaving me confident that digital theatre really does have the ability to reach through the screen and touch our hearts.
User Not Found is playing on several digital platforms. For more information, visit Dante or Die online.