Airhead and It-Girl Emma, and her ditzy sidekick Clem, coach Emma’s dreary cousin, Cassie, in the fine art of social graces in advance of Bartholomew’s big party. With their own hashtag vocabulary and regular references to people’s ever changing status on Instabook, all three struggle with the endless demands for online validation and popularity. It’s a world Emma and Clem know only too well, and a world which cousin Cassie doesn’t really know at all. Yet the arrival of #fanger Xavier throws a spanner in the works, dislodging truths that get revealed during a terrifying night without wifi.
In Ali Hardiman’s "Disconnected" social media in its all pervasive, judgmental fakery is royally satirised. From the panic and social stigma of being device-less or without wifi, to the impossibility of talking face to face without social media mediating, "Disconnected" highlights the shallowness of seeking as many possible online likes to define who you are. Dealing in caricatures and feeling at times like a 21st century Clueless, “Disconnected” is ambitious in intent with moments of genuine comic delight as an addiction to their online status leaves several souls disconnected from themselves and from each other. Yet the end result often feels as theatrically shallow as the world it pokes fun at. An all glitz, no real glamour affair, “Disconnected" sells its immensely talented writer and performer short, yet is ultimately redeemed by some wonderfully energised performances.
“Disconnected" marks something of a seismic shift for Hardiman. Indeed, those familiar with Hardiman’s superb debut ELECTRIC might wonder at the huge discrepancy between last years joy and this years curiosity. If “Disconnected” shows Hardiman unafraid to risk bravely leaping into a nonsense comic universe to find her funnies, it might have been better had she looked first. For when it lands what “Disconnected” finds is far less rewarding than what Hardiman loses. For Hardiman’s over the top, sketch-like, fractured giggles satirising the foibles of social media only really surf the surface, thematically and theatrically, feeling as thin at times as the onstage tinsel, becoming a point laboured rather than made. Trying far too hard in places, "Disconnected" takes off at speed, stumbles almost immediately, and spends the rest of its time trying to regain its balance and stay on its feet. Even allowing for the demands of its comedic, non-realist framing, and recognising it has some truly engaging moments, these only serve to remind what Hardiman is really capable of. For “Disconnected’s” humour is never as sharp, or as well timed as it should have been, with Hardiman’s fast paced dialogue feeling blinkered, or in the grip of a stranglehold at times.
Yet Hardiman can’t be held solely responsible. One has to question what Pamela McQueen brought to the table, for no dramaturg worth their salt could fail to have noticed the unresolved issues inherent in this script. A problem compounded by director Olivia Songer whose direction shows about the same degree of finesse as a drowning victim floundering desperately to stay afloat. Visually, compositionally, in terms of transitions, timing, and pace, or even in terms of its cramped choreographed dance routines, Songer never gets to grips with things. Or with her cast who look hopelessly adrift at times, as if left to their own devices. Most notably during the initial arrival of Xavier which, whatever the aesthetic intention, looks like amateur hour. Given both McQueen and Songer’s pedigree on paper, the less experienced Hardiman, and the rest of the cast, are both poorly served.
Even so, most of the cast rise brilliantly to the challenge in Jack Scullion’s cramped set, all glittery tinsel and pinkness, which takes up far too much of the stage yet yields far too little in return. Hardiman’s vainglorious and insecure Emma, if a little predictable, proves to be a brainless delight. Yet she risks being constantly upstaged by a sublime Madi O’Carroll as Clementine, with both Hardiman and O’Carroll crackling with onstage chemistry. Gordon Quigley’s Xavier, played like a cardboard cut out of an image of an image, toys superbly with Xavier’s over the top, cliched falseness. All of which leaves a valiant Sarah Foley struggling to find purchase as the boring bulimic Cassie. Like a self-serious Alice fallen down the insane “Disconnected" rabbit hole, Cassie functions as an insipid straight woman to her manic comedian co-stars. Not helped with Cassie being fitted out with all the weakest and tritest lines. The inclusion of the silent Grainne Good or Fiona Frawley rotating the role of the wordless Francesca brings little of benefit, with their wouldn’t be missed character looking surplus to requirements.
Like eating just the icing on the birthday cake, "Disconnected" delivers momentary sugar rushes that can often delight, but ultimately it leaves you feeling unfulfilled. Especially for those aware of what Hardiman is truly capable off. Like its social media caricatures, “Disconnected” trades in image rather than identity and it’s a gamble that doesn’t pay off. For on her best day Hardiman can deliver smart, sharp, funny, and incisive writing. "Disconnected” is not her best day.
“Disconnected” by Ali Hardiman, produced by ILA Productions in association with The New Theatre, runs at The New Theatre until February 2nd.
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