White Bear Theatre, London – until 15 September 2018
In June of this year, Instagram hit a new milestone: one billion active monthly users. Facebook, meanwhile, is still streets ahead with 2.23 billion people logging in every month. It’s becoming more and more difficult to remember (or for the younger generation, imagine) what life was like before the internet – and particularly before we were able to take it with us wherever we go.
Obviously, it has its benefits; without the internet, I wouldn’t be here writing this review, for one thing. But there are growing and legitimate concerns about the amount of time we now spend in the digital world, being exposed to fake news and impossible ideals, and the risks this poses on both a global and a personal level.
Set in the 90s, Kevin Mandry’s Eros takes us back to the early days of the internet, and into the studio of Ross Black (Stephen Riddle). A former glamour photographer, he’s fallen on hard times and now scrapes a living helping small businesses produce marketing brochures. He dreams of giving it all up and moving to Scotland, much to the horror of his assistant Terri (Felicity Jolly), for whom the studio is much more than just a job. And then his ex-lover Kate (Anna Tymoshenko) arrives out of the blue to remind Ross of his glory days – and not in a good way.
The first thing to say about Eros is that it doesn’t necessarily go where you think it’s going… but it’s also difficult to pinpoint exactly where it does end up. Touching on various extremely topical themes – consent and female agency, our obsession with untouchable perfection, the growing influence of technology – it doesn’t really focus on any of them in any depth, and despite some intriguing details and hints that there could be a big twist coming, the explosive revelation we’ve been waiting for never arrives. As such the production, directed by Stephen Bailey, becomes somewhat lacking in pace before concluding on a disappointingly lacklustre note.
On a more personal level, as a portrait of the relationships between three disillusioned characters whose lives haven’t gone the way they hoped, the play is more successful. Felicity Jolly’s Terri is by far the most likeable of the three; after escaping a troubled past, she’s found some kind of stability with Ross, who she clearly idolises as a father figure. She’s terrified of losing both her home and her new-found Internet connection, which has allowed her to make new friends all over the world through the miracle of chatrooms.
The majority of the stage time belongs to Anna Tymoshenko and Stephen Riddle as Kate and Ross, whose relationship is complex and at times confusing. One minute Kate is bristling with righteous anger and hatred, the next she’s flirting, dancing around the studio, and even suggesting they get back together. She has what appears to be a picture perfect life – big house, successful business – but something’s missing, and it’s clear that despite everything she still feels some lingering affection for her former lover. There are a few moments where the two connect and it seems like this affection might be reciprocated, but they never last long; Ross has his own idea of a perfect life and Kate, it seems, has never featured in it.
Eros sets out to tackle some interesting questions about human nature and our relationship with the ever-changing world around us, and offers an enjoyable opportunity for those old enough to reminisce about the joys of dial-up internet. The personal story of the characters is intriguing to watch as it unfolds, but unfortunately a lack of focus reduces the topical contribution that the play could have made to more than one ongoing discussion.