Review: Random Selfies (Ovalhouse)

Mike Kenny’s new play comes to the south London venue

Natalia Hinds in Random Selfies
Natalia Hinds in Random Selfies
© Simon Annand

Coming into Ovalhouse for the premiere of Mike Kenny's Random Selfies, the first thing we hear is the syncopated synths of Katy Perry's "Chained to the Rhythm". It's an apt choice of song for a piece about the modern impact of technology on young lives, with teen Loretta (though she prefers the name Lola) constantly reacting to the rhythms of social media obligations – the compulsion to check a message when her iPad pings, or the instant need to take a selfie after every encounter. Like clockwork, everything witnessed through a digital lens.

Kenny's text, written for seven to 13 year-olds, is a straightforward cautionary tale presented in a young girl's bedroom. Performed solo by Natalia Hinds and embellished with some low-key yet nicely stylised projection from designer Rachana Jadhav, the 55-minute piece takes us through Lola's life, meeting new friend Maya and her upstairs neighbour Mrs Thing. As the plot progresses, Lola resorts to half-truths and hyperbole, attempting to cut through the clutter of the online world, desperately trying to boost her own popularity while feeling increasingly invisible.

For Kenny, modern-day loneliness is rarely remedied by being constantly switched on online. The ring of Lola's iPad is a reminder of her isolation – the existence of others reduced to a single, incessant and monotonous ping. Even the projections, slowly sketched out over the show’s walls, mean we always feel surrounded by a constructed version of the outside world, a digital replica of life seen on a screen. Kenny presents a tight and punchy script, but one that that seems to cram in a number of weighty topics – refugee crises, cancer treatment and violence within a household to name a few.

It just about works because the playwright manages to retain Lola's voice and perspective throughout. Hinds plays the central character and multi-roles as the peripheral figures well, all half-smiles and suppressed dejection adding a familiar relatability to the character, perfectly pitched for younger audiences. Her multi-roling is subtle, and rarely overdone, making sure that we never forget that this is a girl who feels, for the most part, alone.

It’s a show that is intensely modern, echoing the themes of recent Broadway musical Dear Evan Hansen but here placed in a context more relatable to younger audiences rather than Big Apple punters. Lola is a girl so petrified of her own place in her world that she forgets to even see the world in its own right. For youngsters in the modern day, as Katy Perry puts it, there's every danger that they're living in a bubble.

Random Selfies runs at Ovalhouse until 7 April.