The Chosen Room
Youth Music Theatre musical penned by Marie Jones attempts to parody the virtual world of the World Wide Web
For those of us who understand the formalities of Facebook and MySpace, it's arguable that the hours frittered away being ‘poked’ and ‘compared with friends’ probably isn’t the most productive way to spend time.
Much can be said for The Chosen Room - a musical based in a futuristic social networking site, written by Marie Jones and Mark Dougherty for Youth Music Theatre UK.
The story opens with a 65-year-old woman seeking friends online by describing the things she likes, pursuits such as rambling and hiking. When nobody responds, her attempts to reach someone, anyone, became increasingly desperate.
The sense of desperation is heightened by a nervous opening ensemble song, until the old lady realises that she could, in fact, become whoever she wants to be. On the internet, nobody need know the truth.
Once the old lady becomes Vicky Green, a teenage version of herself, she falls down the rabbit hole. The singing and dancing take over, moving from one cliché to another.
The themes explored by acclaimed playwright Jones and co-writer Dougherty are weak. There are essences of conflict with identity and the potentially sinister falseness that technology can hide. And yet the uncertain narrative cannot detract from the young cast’s collective performance.
After the shaky start, the ensemble of 40 or more Youth Music Theatre members come together to create a sound visual presence.
The second song receives one of the loudest receptions of the night, as the cast become digitalized in their movements and perform a tight, well choreographed piece. Considering they were only introduced to the musical 10 days before performance, they work together effortlessly and their dancing is impressive.
The use of physical imagery during the songs is also well done. One song consists of Green attempting to create her own personal online room. The ensemble, choreographed by Gail Davies and situated simply at both sides of the stage, take it in turns to use minimal props and their bodies to illustrate the thoughts of our heroine - a cosy cottage room, an exotic Greek mansion, a tiny penthouse apartment.
The audience is taken on a journey through cyber-relationships and the process of selecting friends. It was always going to be difficult to commit to a whole performance dedicated to this subject. The characters are one-dimensional and reflect well the mere snippets of personality you get from online 'friends'.
At one point the audience are shown the elation of one man being chosen as a friend. He has met the girl of his dreams! The young man in question proceeds to sing a Westlife-style love song. It couldn't be more out of keeping with the tone of the rest of the piece. It's impossilbe to relate to a character so shallow.
Dougherty’s musical score is fair and sang relatively well by the young cast, whilst the leading lady gives an excellent vocal performance. However, The Chosen Room doesn't strike me as a musical that will be remembered for its soundtrack.
Towards the end my heart sinks as the chosen friends enter the chosen room via a Big Brother style sequence. Jones had the opportunity to recreate the mystery and uncertainty of chatting to new people online, but instead took the easy route - by trying to gain cheap laughs.
The Chosen Room may be the only known play to be set in the realms of cyberspace, but there may be a reason for this. You’d probably get more drama from an hour exploring your own Facebook profile. A series of five minute comedy sketches? Yes. A potential two-act play? No.