With a title like Going Viral how could I resist? Writer/performer Daniel Bye’s show was the winner of a Fringe First Award in 2015 and couldn’t be more prescient if it tried. At the time of writing/performing the big concern was the possibility of an Ebola epidemic. The disease threat may have mutated into something far more rampant but the results are much the same – as we are, even now, finding.
Part dramatic monologue, part fun science lecture I was reminded of some of the work of Dave Gorman, though Going Viral generally has a more serious intent. The show starts with Bye sitting in the audience examining the contents of a bag of medications and producing some hand sanitiser which he passes around. If nothing else, this magnanimous gesture tells us it’s not the present crisis with its hoarding mentality that we are dealing with. A story then emerges about a potentially fatal virus picked up in Africa and which rapidly spreads around the globe. The disease induces a sickness in which those infected cannot stop crying. However, the man at the centre of the outbreak does not demonstrate any symptoms – he is, in effect, a “super spreader”.
Finding himself increasingly isolated as a “non-weeper” the protagonist tries to replicate tears by judicious use of a chopped onion, a chilli and even by asking an audience member to pluck hairs from his arm with a pair of tweezers. In between the various stages of the developing story Bye entertains the audience with a practical demonstration about how viruses work making use of pink liquorice allsorts – I promise it does make sense when you see it. There is also a quiz and an explanation of how the R0 (Nought) rate is significant … [Basically if R0 is greater than one then the spread of the virus increases exponentially. In the case of Covid 19 it is between 2 and 3 (I looked it up); to put this in perspective measles is way off the scale at 18. Measles is far more rampant in terms of transmission but, of course, is less deadly and, more significantly, there is a cure] But I digress… Bye has the knack of making all the scientific stuff palatable and this is useful in setting the context for the story that unfolds. He initially seems quite an unassuming performer who for most of this in the round production eschews centre stage; his time is spent on the margins of the stage or sitting among the audience. His contact with his audience is palpable as he talks confidentially to them so that they never feel they are being lectured.
The main narrative is simply told but is actually quite complex in terms of the messages that it puts across. Parallel to the super spreader strand is another which focuses on the woman who tries to track him down. Along the way Going Viral shows how something like a virus can be deeply divisive and how the powers that be deal (or fail to deal) with such an outbreak. The resonances just keep on coming. Watching the performance in 2020 the storyline seems quite chilling and the epidemiological background is probably even more significant than originally. If you want to get a better understanding of how a virus might work and be entertained at the same time, then make an appointment to watch this show. Somebody enterprising should actually commission Bye to update his script to the present day and then represent it as a live online show – now that really would be worth staying in for.
Going Viral is available on Daniel Bye’s You Tube channel (here), along with further examples of his work in similar style. Given the current climate it is eminently worth a watch and by the conclusion you will definitely have a better understanding of how viruses operate.
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