The performances are uniformly superb (John Omole and Devon Anderson are standouts), and the use of video/technology is very well done.
Using the present era’s acceptance of and dependence on social media as a springboard, this play – written by theatre powerhouse Lynette Linton - is both timely and frustratingly timeless. It reveals the grim side of uninformed internet usage, the vacuous nature of celebrity (for its own sake), and – in an increasingly multicultural (and yet polarised) society – the insistence on judging others (and ourselves) based on skin-shade.
On the face of it, the story seems to centre around Ella (Adele James), a teenage girl of dual-heritage (Irish father/Barbadian mother). Despite living with her three older siblings and her mother (away on holiday throughout proceedings), her main preoccupations are with herself, her online vlogsite (ostensibly delivering ‘beauty’ tips’), and the number of online ‘followers’ she can accrue. Indeed, the only interactions she has with her family seem to be from behind a recording device; using them as mere props in her search for the perfect ‘selfie’.
The fact that she equates ‘beauty’ with being in possession of ‘light’ skin, and regularly derides and critics those with ‘darker’ complexions, is initially brushed over with an easy-going delivery, and an amusing (sorry) lightness of tone.
During this time, we are introduced to her older twins Aaron (Devon Anderson) and Aimee (Sophia Leonie), her (much) older sister Melissa (Grace Cookey-Gam), as well as Aimee’s fiancé Bradley (John Omole), and Melissa’s partner David (Jamie Richards).
A video-screen is used to show both Ella’s cinéma vérité-style social-media posts, and to display a series of (initially positive) responses to her online profile.
Scripted and acted with pace and humour – rather like a comic-strip, the play seems to draw the audience into a comfort-zone; tellingly, Ella herself – in one particular online quiz – suggests that her favourite colour is “beige”.
And then – in an almost imperceptible tonal shift – Ella ‘fades into the background’ (marooned on her very own island of superficiality), leaving the ‘grown-ups’ to contemplate the true meaning of the words: ‘lightie’ and shade.
We get entertaining vignettes from other ‘online warriors’, each putting Ella’s online (trivial) pursuits into deeper/shallower context (the street-wise comedic duo ‘D and G’ being the most entertaining of these).
#HashtagLightie reveals the grim side of uninformed internet usage, the vacuous nature of celebrity and – in an increasingly multicultural yet polarised society – the insistence on judging others (and ourselves) based on skin-shade.
In respect to the family, we see Aimee refusing to be defined by her (‘black’) fiancé Bradley; we witness a nursery’s refusal to let Aaron pick up his ‘white-looking’ child; and we see Melissa constantly fighting to be seen – and read – by her caucasian, publishing company-running boyfriend.
Indeed, it is this last thread – with Melissa reading from her journal, before handing it to a stricken, newly comprehending Ella - that supplies the play with its graceful denouement.
As the stories unfold – and are posted online by a ratings-hungry Ella - we get an increasing sense of threat, as the tone changes in the online feedback, and the posted comments become more malign.
The performances are uniformly superb (John Omole and Devon Anderson are standouts), and the use of video/technology is very well done. The lighting, sparse set, and (especially) the sound-scape are all used to great effect, in order to escalate tension, and Rikki Beadle-Blair directs with precision, clarity and, what feels like, a complete understanding of Ms. Linton’s multi-faceted text.
This play has a lot to say about race, gender-roles, shame (shaming) and social politics as a whole; however, its biggest success seems to be in offering us this reminder: only when the energy of youth interacts and collaborates with the experience of age, can true wisdom and lasting progress be achieved.
This beauty is not ‘skin-deep’.
Info: #Hashtaglightie is at the Arcola Theatre until February 4, 2017 / See listing