An innocent photo twists into a real horror story for two young people after taking a selfie dressed as Zombies for Halloween but fail to see the memorial flowers for a dead child behind them. The internet fights back at the morality of their decision. Sophie (Ebony Jonelle) immediately apologises, horrified that she hadn’t seen what was behind her. Being employed in a charity raising funds for terminal illness for children, she completely understands the impact of her mistake. However, Jamie (George Howard) can’t help but bite back at the trolls, questioning who and why they attack his morality when they can use 15 different profiles to indite fear into their victims, and in this case it’s Sophie who takes most of the hits. Months after, Sophie still receives daily calls, her locations released and trolls detailing horrific ways in which they might torture her to death. In the meantime, we watch the birth of an influencer as Jamie collects fans by saying ‘the unsayable’ or ‘what everyone’s thinking’. As Jamie thrives, Sophie is fired from her job and finds safety at her mums house.
This piece is incredibly relevant to our generation as we see violence online every day. Not only that, but we see moral gatekeepers as cancel culture questions who takes positions of power when their past may not be so trustworthy. Obviously in some cases the call for cancelling is valid to those who continue to create harm at their position, however Jamie makes a point that the trolls calling for this execution should question themselves first, especially if they use violence to bully someone into hiding.
The trolls are depicted through the story of Punch and Judy using puppets to speak on behalf of the person behind the trolling. This wasn’t the first time I’ve seen this done, I remember seeing a similar device used at the Southwark Playhouse and I do enjoy the reference however I’m not sure how much it was needed in this piece. I found that the strength lay in the dialogue between the actors and particularly when conflict came into play. The characters were deeply interesting and fantastically played and was really missed in the play when they weren’t on stage. The puppets added a really interesting creepy element however they inevitably slowed the pace down quite a bit with scene changes and changing between puppets, creating space for silence that wasn’t necessarily thought-provoking. The set itself was minimal and effective for the piece, perhaps slightly too bare considering the fantasy of puppetry and travelling into internet worlds.
The ultimate climax of the piece shows the real identity of the main troll which created some gaps in the piece for me. I was perhaps slightly behind with understanding the split personality of the troll and the real person behind. ‘Punch’ puppet was sought by the police for beating his wife and killing a few other puppets but the real person behind Punch was a lonely man grieving the loss of his child. I was left a bit confused by who this person really was and what the relation to punch ended up being, if not as a cover, then what is Punch used for and used so regularly for. This being said, it doesn’t take away from the talented cast behind the puppetry, it was extremely encapsulating to watch but I wonder if there was some untapped potential with this element.
I left this piece with lots to think about, especially about the difference of punishment. In this piece, Jamie is a straight white RP male who grows a fan base from causing offence whereas Sophie loses out on her whole career, well her whole life and is receiving daily hate wishing her dead. Let this be a conversation you have when watching this show, when it comes to the power of the internet, we create the heroes and villains. Let’s question who we choose to trust and whether that’s facts or a system we are lucky enough to not be targeted in, yet.
Playing until 19th November, https://theatre503.com/whats-on/zombiegate-2/
Reviewer: Alice Rose
Reviewed: 9th November 2022
North West End UK Rating: ★★★