Fake (The Covid-19 Monologues Volume 2)
Elysium Theatre Company
Chris Barlas’s Fake is the first of the second volume of Covid-19 Monologues to actually mention the pandemic. But then, as the repetition of a range of half- (and fully-) baked conspiracy theories gives Barlas’s script a worrying air of authenticity, it is inevitable COVID would be featured.
Marion (Karren Winchester) and her husband leave their Suffolk village believing the neighbours are discussing them behind their backs. Tiring of a nomadic lifestyle, they settle down on a farm where Marion discovers the Internet and is exposed to a range of extreme theories. Marion is typical of members of modern society (including a former US President) capable of believing passionately in theories while requiring no scientific or objective evidence, taking their presence on the Internet alone as proof of veracity. Yet Marion’s blind faith may damage her relationship with the one person about whom she cares.
The most disturbing (and convincing) aspect of Barlas’s script is the vague manner in which Marion supports her beliefs with imprecise references to unexplained growth in allergies or the unproven impact of mobile phone masts. The arguments in the script are familiar as one has heard similar remarks made in pubs, on buses or in offices where evidence against the conspiracy and an absence of evidence for it are reinterpreted as evidence of its truth. They are arguments which are impossible to refute and may be frustrating in a one-to-one conversation but are dangerous if unchallenged on social media.
Appropriately, director Jake Murray sets a conspiratorial tone with Karren Winchester leaning forward to confide in the audience and share secrets. The effect, however, is offset by an increasingly disturbing performance from Winchester.
Marion clearly wants to be friendly and let the audience in on the secrets to which she has access, but Winchester’s performance shows she is developing the unreasoning approach of a fanatic. Winchester’s teeth are bared as Marion becomes increasingly agitated; frustrated her beliefs are not shared. Marion’s blind faith is alarming as Winchester makes clear she is incapable of ever doubting the theories or of engaging in reasoned argument.
Prior to the development of the Internet, credulous individuals like Marion would have been harmless if annoying eccentrics. The seductive nature of social media and the ability to spread misleading information without being challenged has made them dangerous—in the case of Marion to herself as her mental health has suffered and she is nudging towards paranoia.
Anyone who dislikes Fake must be part of the conspiracy.
Fake is available on Elysium Theatre’s YouTube channel from Friday 16 April.
Reviewer: David Cunningham