There are three reasons behind my desire to want to enjoy Meme Girls last Tuesday night. Firstly, I was confident in the respective talents of the creative team behind the show, notably director Stephen Nicolazzo and performer, Ash Flanders. I had seen their work before, years earlier and had always found it poignant, colourful and spirited. Secondly, I was drawn to the chaotic post-modern terrain of the subject matter and thirdly, I had taken a date to the Malthouse. For a little bit of context- I usually go alone to the theatre so I was quietly chuffed about having someone to enjoy the spectacle with.
I should have known the night was off to a bad start though when I proceeded to spill my glass of champagne all over myself and an unsuspecting party beside me, as I took my seat. How mortifying. Interestingly, my first impulse as I sat down (post spillage) was to check my phone and in a panicked state (aware of the looming opening act of the show) let certain people know I was about to go ‘off the grid’ for the next hour; Facebook; Gmail; recently listed items on EBay- they all got a last minute desperate eyeball. Pretty sad really, this disconnected online world we live in. I caught myself and smiled, hoping that Meme Girls would hoist me back into ‘reality’ and force me to take a long hard look at the significant cyber relationships I insisted on maintaining in my life. Unfortunately for me, Meme Girls didn’t appear to have a whole lot to say, despite the potency and relevance of the subject matter.
Before getting into the critique however, let it be said that first and foremost, I was struck by what a magnificent achievement the production design was by Eugyeen The. Always one to be seduced by the set and the lighting for that matter, I was enchanted by its pristine and grandiose nature, looking part Clockwork Orange, part airport terminal. The set design and indeed the way the show was blocked was intriguing and visually stimulating, reflecting the portal type world of post-modernity. As an enormously visual theatre goer- I am ashamed to say that sometimes production design can save a show for me if I am significantly dazzled by it but unfortunately, there wasn’t enough to hang your hat on here story wise.
In Nicolazzo’s usual non-narrative structure, Meme Girls hurled us into the world of YouTube videos and anything that ‘trended’- mostly ugly portrayals of misguided narcissism and although I know Flanders to be a talented performer, I only really enjoyed two of his interpretations- a fitted sheet folding lady and a waspy housewife trying desperately to pick up her boots from an uncooperative cobbler. The rest of the characterisations struck me as nothing more than caricatures and although this may, in part have been the point, I was uninspired by it. I also felt they missed opportunities to subtly provide social commentary on the characters they depicted, opting rather just for a shallow presentation of them. The representations appeared to be geared for cheap laughs. In addition to this, some of the characters failed to even hold my attention for the duration of their YouTube spiel, particularly a 68 year old woman that was soon to be homeless. Perhaps the show would have worked better for me had the characters been significantly more engaging and/or recognisable as YouTube sensations. My major qualm was that nothing was interrogated it was merely presented which was a shame, considering the opportunities presented by the subject matter.
Closing thoughts would be that Meme Girls was nicely staged, impressively set but unsuccessfully executed primarily because it ultimately lacked the depth I would hope for in a parody. As I filed out from the Beckett theatre, I couldn’t help but feel that I had just witnessed not a play, but a dress-up in front of the mirror on a Saturday night after a few drinks with some sporadic hits from the nineties, re-discovered.