Review: Weaklings, Warwick Arts Centre

As the lights came up and the actors lined up to take their bow, my neighbouring audience member turned to me and said: “that is the most violent thing I’ve ever seen”. Weaklings, produced by Chris Goode and Company, is certainly not for the faint-hearted. This raw and honest production bares all about the world of award-winning writer and critic Dennis Cooper’s blog, on which it is loosely based. Having known the content of the blog was sexual and perhaps unusual to the majority, I expected some nudity and explicit scenes, but I was not prepared for the extreme realness of the production.

The pre-set sees an abstract and impressive cube of projection screens, which are rearranged by the actors during the production. A man, Craig Hamilton, lies on his front naked in the centre of the cube as a video projection of a blowing desk fan lights the front screen. His stillness and vulnerability are highlighted by the repetition of the projection, and this sense of vulnerability is something that comes from Goode’s decision to display the real ugly truth behind Cooper’s blog throughout.

Durational performance is present throughout the production, bringing a feeling of entrapment for the characters involved. It is a symbol of the struggles they are trapped in within their own lives, using the blog as a place where they felt any sense of purpose in existing, particularly for Nick Finegan’s character. As well as repetitive projection of gifs and other images, we see videos of real people who were contributors to Cooper’s blog. This goes hand-in-hand with the bare-all style of the production. Effective live projections of the characters as they are on stage put the audience in the seat of the bloggers, as if looking in on Cooper addressing contributors.

Cooper, who is played by Karen Christopher, is placed above the rest of the set, with his office being above and behind the cube. This gives a ‘Big Brother’ impression as Cooper is almost looking over the bloggers as a father figure, or simply the one thing that interlinks them and to which they all relate.

The internet in this scenario allows for bloggers to share in something that common discourse does not allow them to do in the offline world. The moments of intrusion into the characters’ lives that are presented on the blog are curious, giving something obviously so public but also very private at the same time for these isolated individuals. The anonymity of the internet, a place where sexuality becomes separated, allows these people to feel a sense of inclusion, albeit virtual. However, virtual does not mean fake, as is clearly displayed with the power of the online to both almost save a life or end it completely.

The lighting is highly impressive both technically and dramatically, with durational elements to complement the repetitive actions of the actors. It is meaningful and appropriate throughout.

For the audience, this is tough. You have to do a lot of work to piece things together and come to terms with the raw nature of what Goode is displaying. Although at times I felt, naturally, disgusted and violated, the real portrayal of this unknown world is essential in giving a deeper understanding to not only the subject matter of the blog, but also the power of the online and how it has developed in recent times since the blog first began in 2005.

There are huge questions about morality and human nature that Weaklings brings to mind: we are forced to think about issues that we don’t necessarily want to, and how they relate to the conception of and the ever-expanding online.

Weaklings is playing at Warwick Arts Centre until 8 October. For more information, see the Warwick Arts Centre website. Photo: Chris Goode and Company.