See-Through at Camden People’s Theatre
See-Through is like a theatrical Medium Cool for YouTube culture, distorting the lines between factual and fiction. Like Haskell Wexler’s seminal documentary/drama hybrid, Claire Gaydon’s production is a stylish tour-de-force built around a climax that challenges our understanding of the theme. For Wexler it was ethics in television reporting, for Gaydon it’s the honesty in vlogging. It’s an outlandish comparison until we realise the bizarrely huge influence of these YouTubers, demonstrated in a hilarious sequence of Claire trying (and failing) to get through videos from the site’s most popular stars including Jenna Marbles and Zoella.
A plausibly autobiographical narrative follows Claire as a struggling actress whose proudest achievements are nailing her roles in the Nativity. Intrigued by Gen Z’s intense attraction to a YouTube career – apparently the most desired choice for today’s teens – she launches a channel herself. The piece is Interestingly structured, the performer sits on stage, laptop on desk, with a screen projecting her live video recordings, as well as pre-recorded footage imagining her working with collaborators including her mum (surgically edited videos for maximum comic effect) and a music producer for help in creating an absurdly overlong ident.
Gaydon brilliantly skewers the process, poking fun at the authenticity of the archetypal YouTube personalities. Much humour is found in her serious-not-serious attempt, which blends genuine video-making and parody. As her subscribers increase, an overarching point is made about following an inane formula that entails the need for edge in her content (her breakthrough comes from a vlog about smoking weed and having sex).
This recalls a more extreme example of Instagram star Kirill Bichutsky, aka @SlutWhisperer, who said in a recent documentary, The American Meme, that he found success in controversial content that many of his audience think about but few admit out loud. Likewise, Claire’s experiences are familiar to many but only a handful could tell their stories without getting red in the face.
See-Through could benefit from a projector with more lumens as the images are dark against the jet-black concrete wall of the theatre, but the lengthy recordings help our eyes adjust to the low light. The narrative focus is harder to adjust to since See-Through doesn’t have the strongest thrust to sustain the full hour. The finale – an emotionally charged monologue – is itself impacted by the crazily blurred honesty in the performer’s depiction of an inauthentic, try-hard online world. Overall, though, this is a commendable work of style and subversion.
Photo: Claire Gaydon
See-Through is at Camden People’s Theatre from 23rd until 27th April 2019. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.