Northern Lights

Review: Going Viral “The science and the storytelling are punctuated with effective moments of wordless action”

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Picture: Northern Stage.

Picture: Northern Stage.

When I was invited to review Going Viral at Newcastle’s Northern Stage, never did I expect to be sat beside the solo actor, picking hairs out of his arm as he performed. That is until it actually happened.

Going Viral is experimental, interactive theatre that’s on top of its game. It’s a vibrant concoction; the deliciously disconcerting premise of a “weeping” outbreak, told expressively through a blend of monologue storytelling, audience interaction, and live demonstrations which feel more like science class than a theatrical performance.

You can tell Daniel Bye is in his element. From the moment he steps away from his camouflage among the audience, arrives, seemingly as an audience member, he throws all kinds of questions, metaphors and props into the empty space between us until the room is as chaotic as Bye’s mind: A vivid depiction of a human cell. We, the audience, participators in this theatre-in-the-round, form the cell’s membrane, and watch in fascination as he gets busy with multiplying the infecting virus; Liquorice Allsorts.

The science and the storytelling are punctuated with effective moments of wordless action. We watch, and try not to cringe, as he chews on half a green chilli, or as he endures me plucking hairs from his arm. And while these were often effective, there were moments that felt less so; the occasional moment that felt over-told, as if the very way he delivered his story was self-referential; or the nod of a peg-turn to the lighting crew.

Of course, we understand why this is. It’s to make us think. A performance to ignite contemplation, to question our society, and our understanding of how humans deal with emotional torment.

Well-told, poignant and thought-provoking as it was, I never felt truly invested. Why? Bye certainly knows how to command the space, but he wanted us to feel uneasy – oh how he wanted that. We were all too aware of our presence; often asked to look at other audience members, or as he kept swapping to another vacant chair around our collective, he never allowed us to suspend our disbelief. We were always there, self-aware, and the story never felt too real.

Alongside provoking my critical thinking, am I wrong in wanting to leave the theatre with an emotional response? Maybe I’ve become too dependent on tears; a conditioned audience member ready for the Pixar treatment.

But I wanted to cry. I’d endured a meaningfully told story, by a man so ready to welcome tears and hardship throughout the evening. I felt like it never lived up the climax it could have; that we’d have left the litter of sweets, pharmaceutical containers and onion peel behind us, while trying to hold back tears. With a story containing so much gravitas, I wanted more from the ending.

Has it changed me? Maybe. Did it leave me questioning? Absolutely. This is the kind of theatre I love, although I’m unsure if it loves me back. Going Viral capitalises on the intimacy of the small, captivated audience in a way that larger theatre performances simply cannot.

If you fancy catching the virus yourself (figuratively, of course), Daniel Bye is Going Viral in at Slung Low’s HUB in Leeds on Sunday August 2, and at Edinburgh’s Northern Stage every day bar Wednesday, Saturday 8 till Sunday August 30.
For more information, head to www.danielbye.co.uk

Words: Jay Sykes

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