Thursday, February 29

Late Night Staring at High Res Pixels – Finborough Theatre

Late Night Staring at High Res Pixels, written by Athena Stevens and directed by Lily McLeish, looks at relationships between women and how these are affected by their relationships with men, romantic or otherwise. A series of asides, presented as 28 separate episodes, it tells the story of 1 (Evelyn Lockley) whose boyfriend is best friends with A (Athena Stevens) and what happens after 1 sends him a topless photo which he casually shows to A.

Due to the way the sound has been edited, it is beneficial to watch the piece with headphones. A subtitled version is also available.

The piece opens with 1 looking at herself in the mirror and commenting on her appearance, including the faint wrinkles she has noticed have started to appear. A fan of presenting her ideal reality on Instagram, she spends a long time perfecting the right selfie for the world to see. After noticing that the cloth of her top clashes with her skin making the ideal shot impossible, she decides to take a topless selfie, for herself, to remember how good she looked in that moment. She also sends the picture to her boyfriend.

Meanwhile, A is having Sunday dinner with him and his parents. They are best friends and A does not like how he treats women but says that their friendship means that he treats her better. She works in advertising, is financially independent, confident and strong, all things which he does not look for in a girlfriend. He shows A the picture of 1 and declares how lucky he is, to which she awkwardly agrees, being uncomfortable seeing the picture, and not knowing what else to say.

The episodes are shot in different rooms and 1 and A perform the pieces in different aspects, from lying on the floor to standing barefooted in the bathroom. Two of the episodes only show the performers’ feet and both of these are excellent examples of showing emotion with only body language. The nervousness and discomfort of both women is brilliantly expressed through only their feet and voices.

Both A and 1 are insecure in many ways and obsess over his behaviour and actions. They are very conscious of not showing the weaker sides of themselves, and by breaking the fourth wall, they are able to express their anxieties and discomfort without confronting him or fully confiding in each other.

In a number of episodes the two women speak to each other on the phone. These episodes are shown with the two women back to back, enhancing the point that they cannot see each other’s faces, and both of them hold back on the things they have disclosed to the audience in other episodes.

We never see the man that both women adamantly praise, repeatedly saying what a good person he is, a nice guy, how he wouldn’t ever intentionally hurt anyone, but neither of them say a single word about his actions or behaviour which indicates that any of this is true. The piece feels really tragic as we listen to these women describe this controlling, emotionally distant, unreliable, selfish person, whom they both seem to be hopelessly attached to.

A’s job in advertising has taught her the importance of airbrushing and that permanently changing reality with something like plastic surgery removes individuality so it is better to touch things up a little. This explains her relationship with him, as in her core she doesn’t believe the best of him, coming to the darkest conclusions about his relationship with 1 when discussing it with her, and maintaining that she will always be on 1’s side, despite having had a far longer and closer relationship with him. This implies that his past is far darker than 1 realises and makes you wonder if A should be doing more to protect other women from this man.

He constantly compares the two women to each other, particularly saying 1 needs to learn to be stronger, like A. Both women are manipulated and controlled by him, and the reality he creates for them. His anger is channelled through them, and they both shout and scream on his behalf which enhances the fear they both have of him and how close to the edge he is pushing them.

Although we never see him, and only hear from 1 and A, this piece is very much them through his eyes. Everything they say is about him. Everything they do has been caused by him. Although it is clear they both have lives outside of him, everything else is background noise.

This piece is very emotional and at times you just want to hug both 1 and A and protect them from this toxic man who has become the focus of their lives. There are however some light moments which will make you smile and some high points which show the core strength both women have outside of their relationships with him. 

Across the 28 episodes, things can feel a little repetitive at times and the piece is a bit slow in places. The tragedy of the end of the piece feels inevitable from about halfway through and his increasingly irrational and controlling behaviour is disturbing but unsurprising.

A dark and unnerving piece of online theatre, Late Night Staring at High Res Pixels makes you conscious of what you are sharing, even with the people closest to you. Once friendships live in our phones instead of reality, it can be difficult to express your feelings and doubts to anyone else, which ultimately leaves you alone to ruminate on what happened and what you did to cause it. Heart wrenching and alarming by turn, the piece exposes the darker side of the reality we present to the world via our social media.

Late Night Staring at High Res Pixels is being streamed until 30th March 2021  The subtitled version is available to watch here 

Reviewer: Donna M Day

Reviewed: 28th February 2021

North West End UK Rating: ★★★★