Review: YouNews, Forest Sounds Theatre, Unshut festival

YouNews from Forest Sounds Theatre, as a part of Unshut Festival, is a spoof of hard-hitting news, relying on its viewers to debate, challenge and contribute to the shows content. With a plethora of fake news stories, mixed with serious real-world issues, we watch the three journalist’s fall apart as the show around them fails, through lost connections, arguments and an unwelcome feathered guest invading the newsroom. 

Streamed live on YouTube, the show is inherently interactive with the opening section focusing solely on the viewers comments which are shown on the bottom corner of the screen. We watch these comments in real time as a countdown ticks over, jumping back and forwards before the real action begins. As interesting a concept as this is, unfortunately it lasted far too long, meaning we lost the initial comedy created by the confused presenter, sat behind the countdown, who is wondering why his show isn’t starting. Additionally, as there is no onscreen action, there is nothing to react to, meaning very few comments were published and seen on screen; leaving the audience waiting, slightly confused and questioning if this was what the production would be like for the full hour. 

At the heart of the production are the stories covered by the two journalists Misha Jones and Andy Owen Cook. These range from a fight between Swans and Ducks over access to bread, a debate with an MP over climate change and a look at coronavirus testing to a carjacking turned terrorist attack. While we jump to and from these stories during the production, a particular highlight was the interview with an MP discussing climate change. During this we hear the MP admit that they are in the pockets of big business and could do more to help save our planet. An element of the production that can be seen as a criticism towards our own government’s stance on climate change, leaving the audience to question what we really want from our politicians. However, some of the other stories felt laboured with exposition, slowing the productions pace and making it unclear if they were metaphors for the social conflicts we are seeing today, or simply light-hearted spoofs of TV journalism gone awry. Additionally, even though the show has positive messages and comedy at its heart, the segment focusing on coronavirus, while more serious, still feels slightly inappropriate for this current moment, making it uncomfortable to watch. 

However, despite the work’s slow pace and the limitations of the script, the cast is a joy to watch. All three performers show clear dedication to their roles, enthusiasm and guts. James Christensen as the anchor is fantastic, really mastering the tone of a traditional journalist, while using a plethora of unique facial expressions to really land the comedy of the piece, as we see the show slowly fall apart around him. Jones and Owen Cooks’ on-air argument is also another particular highlight as we see them revert to children, skilfully squabbling between shots. Additionally, the production format itself is wonderful, taking clearly recognisable news graphics, projecting audience comments on screen and interacting them seamlessly throughout the show. It was slick, professional and an interesting take on how digital theatre can be produced and performed. 

YouNews provides a unique look at how TV journalism can be translated into digital theatre, providing comedy and positivity throughout. Even though some of this is lost, due to pacing issues and the limited, exposition-heavy script, the talent and dedication of the cast make it an interesting and enjoyable watch within an excellently presented digital format. 

YouNews is playing online until 02/07/2020.  . For more information and tickets, see the Unshut Festival’s website