In Fuel Theatre‘s perceptive production, created in association with Alphabetti Theatre and fresh from a successful run at Edinburgh Fringe, we meet would-be influencers C & C, who have a regular vlogging presence on “We Pipe” creating different types of chatty videos.
When their foray into reaction videos gets them ‘cancelled’, they are drawn to the new short-form content platform “FLIP,” which catapults them into a new realm of fame and success. For Crystal, her dream is to make money, while Carleen seeks the attention and validation of influencing fame.
FLIP! plays with all the things we think we know and understand about social media and vlogging platforms; the kind we all use to make our own impact on online conversations, however small.
In Racheal Ofori’s play, she uses a smooth satirical style to poke fun at everything from viral videos to caustic comments, to artificial intelligence to styles like beauty routines or big star livestreams.
The energy is pulsing throughout as the two friends find the pull of the “like, comment, subscribe” routine is taking its toll on their friendship.
These twenty-something girls are totally ordinary, fast friends out to make a buck, the kind you may see kidding around on the street. Their physical shorthand speaks to a strong and vital friendship – but how far should you push your friends?
This is both a comic glance at the power and immediacy of the internet and a cautionary tale about how much we rely on communication and a sense of belonging from our mobile devices and media accounts, where everyone feels they have something to say and many feel they can be an expert.
FLIP! looks at how such paths to influencing can mean fast financial security if you are lucky, but can also mean danger as moral compasses and general compassion can be put to the wayside for cheap laughs and constant shares.
FLIP! asks what anyone might do when given the chance to have easy wealth given to them when the alternative is constant rejections from dead-end jobs.
When content creators seek to stand out, where is the line drawn – does even death become something to use for an amusing trend? And when content gets shorter and shorter – here the FLIP! platform has a five-second span to make an impact – how can creators keep up with the pressure?
Ogunjo and St Luce play all the characters in FLIP!, from a vain beauty blogger to an Oprah-like interviewer, a hard-nosed content producer driven by ownership and cash, a rapper who seeks to be feminist by ‘pleasing men’ (represented by a puppet), and more.
It shows up the world of influencing for what it often is, fake and often cruel.
Anyone who watches a variety of YouTubers and TikTokers will recognise the type, where followers are chased by the easiest and cheapest content.
The ‘fifteen-step skincare routine’, sponsored, of course, is no longer a silly invention, and really it is only a 21st century way of using ‘celebrities’ to endorse product.
The difference now is that celebrities are ten-a-penny and in constant competition with others to churn out mindless material to appease an audience which is glued to their portable screens.
FLIP! succeeds in mixing lots of ideas in a fast-moving piece, which is a tribute to both Ofori and to director Emily Aboud, who keeps things moving while focusing our attention where it needs to be.
KJ’s lighting design and Eliyana Evans’s sound design are key to creating a world where reality and AI clash with and complement each other.
Anna Robinson’s set and costume designs place us right in the social media space, while Aline David’s movement director adds flavour to everything from twerking to how the ‘two Cs’ present their body image as the story progresses.
FLIP! is careful not to trivialise anything we see. It relies on familiarity while taking matters just one step forward.
As AI is something which is starting to impact on all areas of life from writing academic papers to customer service chat, deepfakes and image recognition, what we see happening in Carleen’s world is not entirely unlikely.
It may already be the norm for some high-profile content creators – how would we know?
You can see FLIP! at Soho Theatre Upstairs until 25 Nov. It runs at 70 minutes with tickets here.
Image credit: Tristram Kenton