Review: Character Limit

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Moyan Brenn, Edinburgh Festival / CC
Photograph: Moyan Brenn / CC

Genre: Musical 

Venue: C Venues – C too 

Low Down
‘Character Limit documents the changing fortunes of four citizens of the internet. They navigate a terrain of bloggers, vloggers, trolls, arseholes, attention-seekers and egotists that populate the virtual realm in which we all now spend half of our lives. We meet Jenny, a feminist vlogger who receives a misogynist backlash; Cameron, a straight ally who sets up a popular but mysterious campaign called #SaveSergei; and Natalie, a teenager who airs her dirty laundry online. We also meet the people who are affected by the trio’s actions online.’

Review
Character Limit is a satirical musical from the Try This At Home theatre company, taking aim at the farcical, surrealist and borderline David Lynch-esque habits of some internet users.

The performance, featuring a young ensemble cast and house band, takes an episodic structure. Scenes and songs thread through parodical skits and genuine fables ranging from the lawlessness to the vanity of social media.

The direction is apt; holding no punches by juxtapositioning veiled internet authors and their quarry next to each other onstage. The result is sincerely harsh, both direction and cast manifesting in their body language the malicious intent of keyboard warriors.

Combine with this the perfect vehicle for the ridiculousness of cyber friends, cyber campaigns, cyber abuse: song. Singing and lyrics are frankly hysterical. I’m notoriously hard to make laugh-out-loud but honestly, it is brutally acerbic. Think Seth MacFarlane meets Frankie Boyle from his Mock the Week days and start humming a song. You’ll get halfway there to capturing the incisive analysis of a group of 20-somethings turning an eye to the ridiculousness of the habits of (our) age.

Yet Character Limit is never didactic or prescriptive: writers, cast and team are simpatico in perfectly ballooning everyday circumstances to expose the darker subtleties below the surface.

Particular praise should be handed to the troupe for keeping a straight face. It’s a testament to the overwhelmingly positive atmosphere that there were occasions when they nearly cracked a laugh watching the audience enjoy themselves. The barometer of how much audiences of varying ages and nationalities ‘got’ the satire is often difficult to tell but from the laughs, I do believe bursting the veneer of the internet is a universal joy.

Special tribute must be given to the ladies of the cast. They sacrifice themselves on the altar of their art and are mocked, ridiculed and occasionally manhandled with poise in the name the message of the production. Likewise, male cast members unapologetically turn the mirror on their own sex, giving an honest representation of the naive misogyny of male exchange today, particularly online.

For a young troupe and a young company, the writing and acting are comparably penetrating and polemical to many of the established satires that headline at the Festival. It’s a genuine find this year.

On a closing note, and as a shout out to the cast and those who take heed and go see it: #SaveSergei

About Alastair Stewart 226 Articles
Alastair Stewart is a freelance writer and journalist. He was previously a press officer in the Scottish Parliament and worked in public affairs. He graduated from Edinburgh University with an MA in International Relations and writes regularly on politics and the arts in the Spanish and British press.

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