For Ella Blair, it’s all about the pursuit of fame. She has a following of 102k (a dream for a theatre influencer!) and lives her life through a camera lens.
In the beauty space – which many say is falling apart on YouTube – Ella’s story touches on friendships and #MeToo. When she is approached by an older, media-savvy, male (Max) who seems to have made it big, The Collab of the title is set.
Using both on-stage and video footage, The Collab feels on the money throughout, even if we, like Ella’s friend Kat (Maria Eastwood Krah), clock Max (Andre Frey) for a narcissist and bad news from the first click.
Writer Lauren Morley has created a piece totally on the pulse of the young people who live by their likes and engagements. Ella seeks that million followers and the validation that comes with it.
We see this everyday in YouTubers who constantly seek subscriptions and comments to stay relevant and monetised, while working all hours to churn out content. There is definite undercurrent of something unwholesome there.
The Collab, directed by Rachael Bellis, is busy with its confidence and chats. Ella’s naivety and excitement as she agrees to work with Max comes across well in Louise Lord’s performance. We believe her, and we like her, rooting for her to come out of the other end stronger and wiser.
I found the character of Max slightly problematic and underwritten for much of the play. Perhaps I do occasionally take issue with the idea all older men use younger women for power trips and exploitation.
Still, Frey plays him well, and Kat’s friend Brett (Clark Alexander) makes an excellent contrast, a man who offers respect and trust without strings. To be a feminist you really can’t dismiss every man as a danger.
The Collab is a fingernail under the surface of a world which only exists online, a half-reality those of us born before the internet can watch from afar and with a certain discomfort.
We have had theatre pieces about grooming, revenge porn, and coertion within the last few years. This play touches on all, and raises questions of consent. It does it well, with its own particular message in mind.
Image credit: Paddy Gormley