Harm is a one-woman show, written by Phoebe Eclair-Powell and produced by the Bush Theatre, which explores the fickle nature of human relationships in the backdrop of social media obsession and the ends to which one would go to attain the #blessed life. Commissioned with the support of the UK Government’s Culture Recovery Fund, the show is a thrilling and sharp-witted commentary on the effects of social media and isolation. It was staged live at the Holloway Theatre which serves as the Bush’s main space with all social distancing protocols being followed — reduced seating, separate entry points, mask on policy unless exempt – which was reassuring.
At the centre of Harm is an unhappy estate agent, played by Kelly Gough, who finds herself stuck in a dead-end job with little to look forward to in life. With a fractured relationship with her family and no real friends to speak of, she lives her life just like her social media presence, devoid of any exciting updates. However a chance encounter with Alice, a charismatic social media influencer on the look for a house, changes everything in her life. An unlikely friendship follows and that’s when things start to spiral out of control. From fake accounts on private message forums and expensive purchases made to keep up the facade to deliberately sabotaging estate deals and sneakily documenting the #human behind the #influencer, she is obsessed with Alice’s #blessed life and will do almost anything to be her ‘friend’, not content with being just her ‘follower’.
The text by Eclair-Powell is what drives the show, offering not only a glimpse into the many insecurities and anxieties that plague the character but also hinting at the kind of life they aspire for. Filled with clever, well-placed references to London realty locations that drew a chuckle from the audience as well as those from the world of social media influencers, content campaigns and online trolls makes the text a delightful read. The performance by Gough is immaculate and draws you in completely, managing to strike a delicate balance between the character’s neurotic and vulnerable sides. She glides between different sections with effortless ease, in one moment a nonchalant real estate agent who couldn’t care less and in the next, a borderline stalker at the verge of doing something terrible. These transitions in the action are complemented by Lee Curran’s light design that facilitates ambient changes between the real and the virtual world, as well as subtle tone shifts in the sound design by Jasmin Kent Rodgman that underscore the violently changing rhythm of the character’s state of mind. The direction by Atri Banerjee succeeds in establishing a tight rhythm, opening up the text and allowing the action to move forward swiftly in a way that keeps the audience hooked (almost like the good ol’ infinite scroll of social media) and offers the performer a lot of freedom to engage with those in the crowd. Combined with movement direction by Chi-San Howard that allows Gough to effectively communicate her character’s contradictions using the body and traverse the minimal set design, consisting of a grass floor and a gigantic stuffed bunny, with deliberate yearning for a human connection.
To summarise, Harm offers a dark, thrilling glimpse into the two-faced world of social media and those who find themselves on either side of the fame (read: frenzy). It highlights the emotional costs of living a #life not for your own self but for others, and what you may have to sacrifice to maintain the status quo.
Until 26th June – https://www.bushtheatre.co.uk/whats-on/
Reviewer: Gaurav Singh Nijjer
Reviewed: 21st May 2021
North West End UK Rating: ★★★★