The wheel has come full circle, I am here, and Seabright Productions’ “Trolling” is about to get trolled. The word “troll” is occasionally thrown my way and whilst it might not cover the whole of my character, it probably encompasses a significant layer of it. As the Fringe’s foremost pseudonymous online theatre critic, an entity which has been always more of an internet essence than a substantial humanoid, I upload myself into the Pleasance Courtyard this afternoon, log on at the box office, and then click play. I glance at the production before going straight to the comments.
Rob Crouch has written “Trolling” and he plays its protagonist, a loner who never leaves his flat and exists almost exclusively on internet forums. He is contacted by a somewhat puckish woman (Joanna Bending) who wants to erase both her real-life and online identities. The pair stage her death online but afterwards she seems to return to the flat in the guise of two different characters, a policeman and an irascible neighbour, who are like taunting sockpuppets. The play becomes a kind of phantasmagoria of online deceit and abuse, with its events’ baffling chronology furthering the nightmarish atmosphere.
If you decide to appreciate “Trolling” on an immediate or unreflective level, then it is horror, and largely successful. There is an enjoyable unpredictability to the story, with the screen of the protagonist’s computer, live camera footage from the stage, and supposedly live footage from other rooms in the flat, being streamed on a huge screen at the centre of the play. Spatially, “Trolling” thus appears to be much bigger than it actually is, with the audience being constantly conscious of what is happening in its phantom rooms.
Unfortunately, the play’s social commentary is similarly spectral and all over the place. At times “Trolling” seems to aspire to be a primer on everything that is bad about the internet. We trip from the unlikelihood of trying to leave the internet altogether to online vigilantes to the spiritual emptiness of cat videos. Yet the play does not concern itself with the ways in which the concept of “the troll” is being increasingly used by the authorities to attack and undermine freedom of speech. Crouch’s crystalline performance as the luckless protagonist cannot in the end disguise his character’s throbbing overfamiliarity. As the generic geek and troll, he is today just as fabled as the original Ladybird Books trolls. So we in effect sift away a well-told story to locate a weary cliché at the bottom of it all.
I wonder if I am susceptible to the same criticism, as I whimper and blink through my thick spectacles and the sauce from my ready meal drips on to the keyboard.