sat 02/03/2024

F Off: National Youth Theatre puts social media on trial | reviews, news & interviews

F Off: National Youth Theatre puts social media on trial

F Off: National Youth Theatre puts social media on trial

NYT's new work is aimed at digital natives. Its playwright introduces it

'I would love people to leave the room and delete a social media app from their phone,' says Tatty Hennessy. The cast of F Off in rehearsal

F Off came about off the back of a meeting I had with Paul Roseby, the artistic director of the National Youth Theatre of Great Britain. I’d come in to talk to him about my writing and through complete coincidence, someone had just auditioned for Paul with a monologue from one of my plays, so we started talking about me potentially writing something for the NYT.

Paul had been interested in putting social media on trial for a while and it was around the time that Mark Zuckerberg was testifying at the US Senate, so a play tackling the rise of social networks seemed like the perfect fit. Not least because we’d be working with a company of 14-25 year olds for whom the impact of social media, both positive and negative, is hugely relevant. It just felt like the right play at the right time with the right company.

The process of creating the show has been extraordinary. I did a lot of research before we got started about the Cambridge Analytica scandal and how social networks accrue and store data, but it’s very much been a team effort. We held a week of workshops with the cast interrogating the themes of the play. Lots of the young people we’re working with are digital natives; growing up, they’ve always had social media, so it was really interesting to understand what social media really means to them. 

It’s easy to think of social media as wholly negative – so it was brilliant to be challenged by one of our company members from the Shetland Islands who sees social media as her lifeline to the outside world.

Paul and I were so moved about how open the company were about their experiences, how social media impacts their mental health, and how they feel about themselves and their bodies. It became clear that there was a really complex nexus of opinions, which made total sense given the huge diversity of the individuals in the room.

A play about social media can become irrelevant in half an hour. So we've included audience participation

Working with this company of NYT members has been better than I ever could have imagined. I was impressed with them as performers but more impressed with them as people. One cast member at the end of the workshop week said ‘I finally understand the meaning of ensemble’ and that says it all for me. The company are a shining example of the utopian idea of what a functioning social network could look like.

It was very important to me that I honoured as many of the voices in the room as possible when it came to writing the script, so F Off has four very different storylines running through that between them touch on politics, Instagram and celebrity culture, online romance and the moderation of extreme content. In the show, we’re weaving all these stories together through this indescribable network in which we try and visually encompass on stage what a social network really is.

The challenge in writing a play about social media is that it can become irrelevant in half an hour. So we’ve included some audience participation, and improvisation in the show to keep things fresh, and encourage the audience to keep refreshing their own ideas on the subject matter. (Tatty Hennessy, pictured below)

Tatty HennessyCurrently our moral discourse and political discussion haven’t caught up with what technology is able to do, which leaves us open to exploitation from powerful technological businesses. We all use connected devices and so this is an issue which affects all of us. For the past few years we’ve been sleepwalking into the scenario we’re currently in. As well as holding the big corporations to account we have a huge personal responsibility to make sure we do everything we can to educate ourselves and fight against this exploitation.

That said, the show definitely isn’t all doom and gloom. It’s fun, it’s exciting - there’s magic, music, and a bit of something for everyone.

We want people to join the conversation. I would love members of the audience to leave the room and delete a social media app from their phone. We want them think about how they’re using it, what role it plays in their lives and ultimately whether they’re happy with that. If the result of that is them saying ‘F Off’ to social media, then so be it.


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