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Review: Twitstorm (Park Theatre)

Chris England's new comedy looks at how social media channels can make or break us

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

You only need see the glee that's greeted President Trump's late-night 'covfefe' bumblings on Twitter for confirmation that social media remains a hugely influential part of the way we live now.

And mob rule via social media channels is at the heart of Chris England's new play Twitstorm, where the dramatic swings in TV host Guy Manton's fortunes all hinge on his relationship with his followers.

Trump quite evidently writes his own tweets. In Twitstorm Guy Manton – like many media personalities – has someone to do them for him. And that's where the trouble starts.

Deftly directed by Jonathan Lewis, this is a comedy with a leavening of farce that plays like an extremely good sitcom. And like all the best of those, it's propelled by an excellent cast.

Ike, an African ingénue with a big heart, stakes a claim in a successful English couple's lives, making himself very much at home while slowly destroying their status quo. It walks a tightrope in terms of cultural stereotyping, but thanks to Tom Moutchi's nuanced and hugely entertaining performance as Ike, it's evident right from the start that the visitor is something more than the former ‘sponsor-an-African-child' he claims to be.

Jason Merrells rants brilliantly as Guy Manton, the TV star and unrepentant ‘racist' whose unfortunate remark prompts a Twitter meltdown, bringing his entire career skidding to a halt. Guy isn't an attractive character. Yet his extended diatribe about trial by social media expresses all the righteous fury felt by a self-satisfied, middle-aged man when confronted by the overwhelming intrusiveness and influence channels like these can have on our lives once we engage with them, however reluctantly.

His also-ran mate, Neil, is given a good-guy warmth by Justin Edwards, subtly underpinned by sly ambition as he jockeys to take over Guy's job, home and wife. Claire Goose is clever, funny and charming as beautiful Bex, the real backbone of the family. Her very tangible success as a writer obviously bothers her husband, who belittles her talent at every opportunity. Ben Kavanagh is mesmerising as coolly assured journalist and social media star Daniel Priest, who feels a responsibility to offer moral guidance to his followers.

Social media moves so fast and changes so quickly that on the face of it, it's a risky business making one channel – like Twitter – central to a play. What England has achieved so well in Twitstorm, though, is capturing the frightening possibilities for major trouble that simmer in social media, for unwary companies as well as individuals.

In his programme notes he comments on how ‘rushed judgement, speedy prosecution and extravagantly disproportionate punishment' can now happen almost simultaneously. And also how, before you know it, the mood swings back in your favour despite all expectations.

Twitstorm perhaps over-extends the central theme, and the closing scenes take a rather unlikely turn. But this is a play that tackles the decline of real debate in modern life, and does it with wit and style. It's very funny too – another winner for the Park Theatre.

Twitstorm runs at Park Theatre until 1 July.