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Published on Tuesday, 06 August 2013

3 stars

Greenside (venue website)
2-10 Aug, 6:35pm-7:25pm; 12-17 Aug, 11:05pm-12:05am; 19-24 Aug, 2:55pm-3:55pm
Reviewed by Ellen Macpherson

 Recommended for age 16+ only.

Judging by this show, I think we have finally moved to a stage of human development where shows based on social media don’t exist purely to preach messages about its use. Timeline is a refreshingly normal production, in which I didn't once have to sit through a thinly veiled message about the moral degradation of young people on the internet. The writers have used verbatim conversations from Facebook to create a narrative of five university students and their relationships – resulting in a comedic drama with plenty of genuine laugh-out-loud moments.

As an observer to private conversations, I felt as if I was rather voyeuristically looking through a window I shouldn't have been. The thing I loved about this production was the realness and honesty of it. It genuinely did remind me of having conversations with people online, and the different social etiquette that applies; amusingly, the production even makes a joke of awkwardly translating chat-speak to real life delivery. Being taken from real dialogue, the piece wasn't cliched (except where the characters were - I'm looking at you, Rachel!) or contrived. The use of multimedia was also good - it had a purpose, and the piece didn't rely on it, which has been one of the failings of a number of other cyber-themed shows I've seen.

However, the real triumph in this piece came from the performances. It's sometimes hard enough to decipher meaning in online communication, when a person's tone might not be clear. It's harder still to then deliver that meaning as an actor on a stage. Theatre is a medium that often requires strident acting, yet the online form is understated; blending the two together so successfully must have required thought, and a good understanding of character as well as the nuances of human communication.

But the problem with this verbatim piece, as honest and relevant as it is, is that it doesn't give the production much to work from. Although it does build into a good story, the narrative seems too scattered. It's incomplete in some places (Ben) and too drawn-out in others (the love triangle). Loose ends just weren't tied up satisfactorily. I suppose that's the problem with using Facebook as a the template for a story; people communicate in a number of ways, and no single medium taken on its own is going to provide the whole picture or deliver appropriate closure to a story.

Nevertheless, this is a really clever production by a company that knows its target audience. Although the crowd was small at the particular performance I saw, everyone in the room understood, and responded extremely well to the type of comedy that the show produced. In a room full of university students, this production would go down a storm. With such refreshing humour and endearing characters, I would even venture to say it'll most likely be the best show based around social media I'll see this August.

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