views from the gods

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The Social Notwork
RADA Studios
10th August 2015


Publicity image for The Social Notwork

Photography provided by Narky Knickers Theatre

I still remember when computers first became A Thing. No one really knew how they worked apart from my generation: we taught ourselves how to draw pictures, type words and then even how to code. These days, I look at modern-fangled televisions and well, for a start, I call them modern-fangled. That's never a good indication of competence. I can't for the life of me figure out how they work without a five-year-old on standby to assist. It's worrying how quickly technology can overtake you.

When Karen (Debbie Bird), Marie (Natalie Layla) and Mel (Charlotte Knowles) are made redundant, they struggle to find alternative employment. Birds of a feather and all that mean the women still socialise, although Mel's constant attachment to her smartphone, closely followed by Marie's fondness for selfies, is driving Karen cuckoo. Initially, it's nice to be ladies wot lunch, but as their savings start to dry up, so does their sense of humour. The women have mortgage payments to find, posh biscuits are off the shopping list and cut-price treatments are more beast than beauty. No, they need to earn more money and fast, and surprisingly, it's technophobic Karen who comes up with an idea. They'll be Jeremy Beadles for the Youtube Generation.

Although The Social Notwork is intended as a rather gentle comedy, there are some occasional more incisive touches from playwright Sharon Tracey Wright. Marie's mini-melt down about the difference in price between a scone and a pain-au-chocolat isn't just funny on the face of it, it's also a little bit bleak. When you are out of work, going over-budget by 70p can tip you over the edge emotionally, even if it's not actually the big financial disaster you imagine it to be. These days I'm more counting calories than pennies, but there's a truth behind the gag that I can certainly understand and so will most people.

Career coach Ken (Matt Slack) with his blue-sky thinking and flip charts is another example of something daft which audiences will instantly relate to. Who hasn't been on a pointless course purely for the free biscuits? Anyone who says they haven't is blatantly lying or has coeliac disease. There's a sitcom feel to the show, with the heart of it the supportive relationship between the three female protagonists, with characters like Ken and the unseen trainee beauticians enemies for the women to defeat together. It's very much all for one and one for all.

Scene changes are noticeably slow, and whilst there is sound design to shelter the downtime, the lights often go back up too quickly. Stagehands should be shadowy blurs you aren't quite sure you saw, they shouldn't be spotlighted and made visible. Whilst director Adam Wollerton keeps up the pace during the actual scenes, he does need to keep a closer reign on transitions, as they briefly disconnect the audience from the play each time. Bird, Knowles and Layla have a great rapport and always manage to get the energy levels back up, but they shouldn't need to work so hard.

The Social Notwork is a lot of fun, and the sort of play you could take anyone to. It's not edgy and the execution is rough round the edges, but it's fairly inoffensive (jokes about waxing will largely go unnoticed by younger ears) and has a very broad appeal. I'll admit to having reservations as to whether Wright could give her characters a satisfying conclusion, but actually, the story arc is well-written with plenty of plausible implausible moments.

The Social Network opened on 10th August and runs from 17th to 18th August 2015 at RADA Studios, as part of the Camden Fringe.

Nearest tube station: Goodge Street (Northern)

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