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SUM - The Play
Etcetera Theatre
29th August 2015


Publicity image for SUM - The Play

Photography provided by Stars or Mars Theatre Company

Have you ever spotted a hashtag and jumped all over it, being one of the many people who collectively make it trend? Well, you've apparently been part of a hive mind, according to playwright Susan Gray. Her latest work, SUM - The Play, explores the idea of group mentality in the modern age by connecting minds together and stripping each person of their individuality.

We first meet Sam (Rosie Akerman) chatting anxiously to Pi (Tess Hardy) about the process of joining the hive mind. Both are "singular" people and there does seem to be an element of choice in giving that up, but given how convinced Sam is that that the alternative is death, well, there's a certain inevitability that assimilation will take place. The united pair then attempt to recruit Carrie (Lydia Kay), who fights, however appears to have even less say in the process than Sam and Pi, having committed a crime. It turns out joining is optional for the curious and mandatory for those who can't be trusted to keep their thoughts to themselves. Although Carrie resists, it's the rebellious Syne (Melanie Crossey) who point blank refuses to join, much to the frustration of Law (Gray).

Although Gray refers to the chorus of Greek tragedy and the unified nature of social media, a more obvious comparison is to the Borg Collective from the Star Trek francise, most notably Voyager. Lan (also Kay) however is no cold Borg Queen, she's too uncertain of her role, struggling to deal with all the minds she's fused together. Unsurprisingly, when you bring together so many different strong personalities, including some which didn't want to be there in the first place, the background noise can be deafening. With Kay playing two parts, she has her work cut out for her, but she manages to glide between the two personalities with ease, keeping them distinct with shifts in mannerisms and accent.

The idea of sharing our every thought with another person without any filter, especially against our will, is a thoroughly terrifying one. Gray first approaches this with humour, with Sam and Pi stealing each other's lines, and then with the full horror as Syne explains why she can't bear it. Whilst some sign up for the collective voluntarily, we find it hard to understand why anyone could make that decision. It's also interesting to question whether a male hive mind or mixed hive mind would work in a similar way, or be substantially more or less effective.

The women are all dressed in similar loose fitting grey clothing, with their hair tied back in Dutch braids, giving them a sense of conformity, even before they join minds. Their hands have vibrant coloured bands looped around them, hinting at the technology aspect to the hive coupling. Reinforcing this are the different cables which are piled around the side of the stage and even wrapped around the front row. The detail is glossed over, but it's the concept of losing your own identity which is more important.

Some of the ideas have been done before, but with sci-fi, an element of recycling is hard to avoid. What Gray does succeed in doing is raising an interesting moral dilemma, which she and the other actresses - sorry, the rest of the hive - portray with conviction. An intriguing new play.

SUM - The Play ran from 28th to 30th August 2015 at the Etcetera Theatre, as part of the Camden Fringe.

Nearest tube station: Camden Town (Northern)

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