Lockdown review: White Noise

A new play from Powerhouse Theatre premiered live on Zoom last night: White Noise is a timely two-hander set in a semi-fictional UK plagued by coronavirus.

David (Paul Westwood) is a minister in Boris Johnson’s cabinet, a key player in the government’s response to these “unprecedented times”. Middle-aged, married with kids, sex-addicted and lonely, he seeks out the companionship of cam girls for money under the screen name of poshboy123.

Finding history student Elise (Danielle J Gearing) who provides titillation under the guise of Lady De Franco, he finds his perceptions of sex work, male empowerment, and his own political beliefs are challenged by their chats.

Over five short acts, the politician and the cam girl continue to dial in to find common ground, have robust conversations, and deal with personal crises. The outside world is at first recognisable, but eventually switches to a time where the official response to dealing with pandemic breeds revolution.

A couple of recognisable tropes appear in Mo Gearing’s otherwise perceptive and enjoyable script – the Tory MP is of course damaged by boarding school experiences, and the cam girl is empowered by the control she has over her work plus her upbringing with “two lesbian mums”.

More interesting are the moments where both David and Elise open up to eacb other, showing both vulnerability and idealism. Different things make them uncomfortable, and make them tick.

For Elise, it is harder to talk as herself than to strip and share intimacy as Lady De Franco. For David, it feels unsurmountable to make the changes and help others as he intended when taking office as he would be “laughed out of the room”.

Both Westwood and Gearing inhabit their characters with truth and clarity, with the thoughtful MP proving to be palatable to the firebrand socialist, and the forthright cam girl articulating the concerns of those who are most vulnerable.

White Noise is a piece which picks at issues around control of our own narratives, of male empowerment, and of the biases we all have that reduce some groups of people to cyphers. Is it that much of a stretch for a government to use the excuse of morality to condemn “underachievers” to death?

A well-performed warning sign, this play raises questions but also seems at times a little too preachy and political. This could be addressed in an extended version or by diluting one of two of Elise’s more inflammatory speeches. I did however like her assertion that sex work is the same as any other: whether you give your mind, strength or body away.

This is Mo Gearing’s first time directing, and with just one socially distanced in-person rehearsal, he has teased an excellent rapport and chemistry from both actors. In their attire and demeanour, we see their characters evolve as their friendship grows, and in a time of strife, that’s heartwarming.

In between acts, we hear news reports both real and fictional. This had the effect for me of both pulling my attention in and out of the piece. The true beauty of White Noise is in this man of privilege and eventual conscience finding moments of clarity and company with the student selling her services.

White Noise was performed live on Zoom on 28 August. Ticket sales raised money for the Raze Collective – an organisation set up to support queer performance in the UK.

LouReviews received a complimentary ticket to review White Noise.