Doomscrolling is one of the lesser known terms which arose during the pandemic. It refers to the habit of continuously surfing the internet for news updates even though the outlook is bleak and depressing; being bombarded by constant bad news can lead to anxiety issues. But once sucked in it can be a difficult habit to break; doomscrollers may eventually lose the ability to step back and take a measured look at life. To counteract this tendency Northern Stage have a series of short pieces under the collective title of Scroll. Framed as an antidote to a modern problem, this series of nine “interventions” was originally released as three tranches at weekly intervals. I’ve been wondering for a while about how to approach and review the material and realised that as most of the pieces were designed to be engaged with at a particular time, I could fit them all into one day. So, here’s how that day panned out:-
- Upon waking (so in my case 6.10am) 5 Minute Wake Up is a filmed piece where you travel from Manchester to a beauty spot in the Peak District at dawn. The first part of the journey is by car which has its own haunting quality as you travel along all but deserted roads out into the countryside. Reaching a tranquil spot, you sit and contemplate and feel how the developing light has an effect on your still awakening emotions. Written & created by Leo Skilbeck, this is a mind calming way to start the day which concentrates entirely on visual stimuli. By contrast …
- 7.15am’s offering is an audio piece purportedly from an app Welcome To Your New Day but is, in fact, the work of Daniel Bye (with music by Ziad Jabero). It’s a tongue in cheek take on mindfulness culture which starts with a disembodied calming voice offering soothing advice against a tinkling background. But as this is Bye it soon becomes infused with a wry humour which gently mocks the often portentous tones of such things. So, the narrator seems to regularly lose confidence in what he is saying and even undermines his own advice. It’s good fun and a timely reminder that we really shouldn’t be taking life or ourselves too seriously
- 8.30am Hear This S*** is not only time specific but site specific as you’re invited to join Amber in the smallest room in the house. Here she’s broadcasting via Instagram reflecting on the one activity she has managed to keep regular (!!) throughout the pandemic. It’s a swift satire on the apparent need for social media addicts to inform us of every aspect of their lives through their feeds and the audience’s apparent desire to watch and comment. Rebekah Murrell does the honours but probably best not to watch if you’re offended by (literally) toilet humour
- 12.58pm There is no particular timing attached to this piece called Silent Disco In The Sky by Daniel York Loh, just the stipulation that it is to be engaged with while waiting for a bus. Although I did fulfil that criterion, I couldn’t see that it made any difference where I was. The film consists of a woman, Ericka Posadas, in a nurse’s outfit dancing to whatever is playing on her headphones. Meanwhile we hear her in voice over telling us about her pandemic experience. She is Filipino though constantly wrongly identified as Chinese and therefore branded the cause of the problem. She also has her own personal tragic reasons to reflect on what has happened
- 1.54pm (Don’t) Spill The Tea is supposed to be played while making a cup of said beverage. As your kettle boils you overhear the conversation between four young people discussing the etiquette of making a proper brew and how the rituals surrounding this feed into a sense of national identity. The banter/discussion scripted by Chris Sonnex gets quite lively but when you’ve banned discussion of the “B” and “C” topics that’s bound to happen. The piece culminates in a fond act of remembrance. As it was lunchtime I went for rooibos which, I note petulantly, didn’t merit a mention
- 1.58pm Though if I’m being strictly honest I didn’t get to this until 2.01pm as the previous piece was still playing. It’s the shortest of the plays clocking in at just a couple of minutes and described as “an embrace by one of the most exciting queer artists in the country”. Tabby Lamb’s Love Letter To Us places a tenderly lyrical text, presented as a voice over, against images of trans bodies some of which are post operative. It’s meant to make you pause and think… and it does
- 8.45pm After one of the longest intervals in theatrical history, it was time to pick up again with Adam Lenson’s Page A Day. Structured to fit into the time it takes to run a bath, this play shares with that activity a sense of ritual and a communal experience which is universal and even more important than ever as a way of bringing humans together. Dora Rubenstein plays a young woman committed to reading a page of the Talmud every day as an ongoing activity which will give her life structure and a sense of shared purpose.
- 10.47pm Sampira self-describes as a “horror producer/curator/writer and Muslim troublemaker” and given that the piece called Night-time Visions is to be played late at night, I was rather expecting a traditional scary story. Instead, the piece is poetically reflective on the subject of more earthbound horrors of the sort that pass through many of our minds as we wind down for the day. These include spoken and visual reflections on world events, society and our politicians so would seem to be the very essence of the doomscrolling that this project purports to counteract. Once again, though, it is the fact that these are shared experiences for many that helps to put things in perspective.
- 12.32 am is way past my normal bedtime but it would have seemed remiss to have got this far only to fall at the final fence. And so I waited patiently for the appropriate time to for Wash Face Keep Face by poet Bridget Minamore. Set around a nightly cleansing ritual, like the previous two pieces it makes explicit how having a routine has been essential for the sanity of many. We may not be able to influence the progress of the pandemic, but we can control some aspects of our own lives.
Northern Stage’s experiment is an interesting one and, however you choose to engage with it, will provide a great deal for you to chew on. Structuring my whole day around this particular project has been a novel approach as I’ve simply got used to accessing most online material as and when it suits me – and, of course, that could equally have been the case here. I found several of the pieces resonated because they articulated the sort of ritualising that I have engaged in by setting up and continuing (remorselessly some might say) with reviewing a new production every day for the last eighteen months. It was a long day punctuated by moments of reflection. The last word of the final piece was “Bed” – reader, I was ready for mine.
Scroll is available on the Northern Stage website – click here
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