If there’s one thing that has dominated digital communications for the last 10 years, it has to be the little animated icons and hieroglyphs that have now carved out an entire subculture of their own. It’s hard to deny the overwhelming presence and impact of emojis (or emoticons) on our day to day lives, filling the important emotional cues that would otherwise be missing from our typed conversations. Their rapid growth and ever-evolving nature as a digital language are at the heart of The Emoji Project, an anthology of new writing staged by Distracted Rat, a writing company whose work intersects radio, film and theatre.
Consisting of pocket-sized pieces and scenes that span the absurd and the political, the show has been assembled by a team of creatives ranging from 11 to 75 years of age, carrying a diverse range of opinions on emojis and digital (mis)communications. Staged under the Camden Fringe at the Hen & Chickens Theatre and directed by Susie MacDonald, Gabriel Harris and Annys Whyatt, the show brings together a multitude of writing styles – monologue, sketch, audience interaction – to offer some funny, heartfelt and intriguing reflections.
The short pieces, which were staged one after the other by an ensemble of actors, touched upon a wide variety of themes, such as our language’s primitive origins (Monkey by Tilney Brune), state censorship of language, (In An Emoticon Nation by sean wai keung), representation in communications (Lobster Emoji Written by James Aldred) and the role of emojis in modern dating, among others. Some pieces called on the audience to participate with the ensemble, such as Emoji Gameshow by Jalice Corral and Happy or Sad? by Alastair Gibbons, made the writing more accessible and engaging. Whilst each of the individual pieces provided a different perspective on how we engage with emojis in our everyday lives, witnessing them in rapid succession was a little overwhelming and made it difficult for us to walk away with one singular takeaway. Perhaps this is intentional, alluding to the frenzied, distracted nature of digital communications itself where the magical and the mundane are experienced in the same breath.
The ensemble puts up spirited performances, with quick transitions and minimal reliance on scenographic elements, which makes the audience root for them all throughout. However, the uncertainty of the “rules” and staging choices made by directors across different pieces – some more reminiscent of ensemble-led sketch comedy whilst others assembled as individual dramatic pieces – adds to the risk of the work being perceived more as a writing showcase than a performative one. At the same time, there is a strong intention in this show to kickstart a conversation about how these seemingly innocuous symbols and icons are shaping our linguistic landscape, assuming much more power and relevance than what meets the eye.
To summarize, The Emoji Project offers fresh and unique perspectives on how digital communications is evolving (or devolving, depending on who you ask) through a humorous ensemble-led performance. It makes you giggle and think in the same breath, reminding us of everything that can go right (and wrong) when it’s our fingers that do the talking.
Reviewer: Gaurav Singh Nijjer
Reviewed: 12th August 2021
North West End UK Rating: ★★★
The Emoji Project runs at The Hen & Chickens Theatre N1 2NA till 14th August 2021 under the Camden Fringe, with a live-streamed show on the 15th of August. Learn more and book tickets at https://www.distractedrat.com/the-emoji-project