Masque (Review – Online)

Masque (Review – Online)

One of the most consistently inventive theatre companies to regularly engage with the online world this past year has been Nottingham based Chronic Insanity. They challenged themselves (for  the second year running) to produce 12 pieces of work in 12 months and have produced a rapid turnover of ideas and end products, no two of which could ever be accused of anything as mundane as similarity. There’s been an immersive radio piece (Hairy Hands), a convoluted narrative set in two different time streams moving in opposite directions and meeting in the middle (24, 23, 22), an online game (There’s Something Among Us) and on online treasure hunt (Flavour Text), a monologue with copious amounts of barbering (Joe Drinks Wine And Gives Themsleves A Haircut) – you get the picture. Every time, something different; every time, something unexpected; every time, something highly challenging.


The sort of material that CI regularly produces is in complete contrast to much video content on social media channels which often seems to celebrate the bland and uninspiring. Can anybody explain to me, what is the obsession with watching others unwrapping their delivered purchases (so called unboxing videos)? And what about the video on You Tube in which someone applies paint to a surface for 90 seconds and you can then spend the next 9 hours, 58.5 minutes watching it dry (if you don’t believe me it’s here). Incredibly this has been viewed over a million times and has 22,000 likes. At least it’s mercifully free of commentary because the other trend which I find intensely irritating (sorry, I will get back on topic shortly but having started down this avenue I’m bound to see it through) is the need to film anything and everything complete with thoughts on whether it is approved of or not.

267756529_2078917302285728_6777635696484196169_nAnd it’s this which Masque sets out to address (see I got there in the end!) Three social media influencers – at least that’s what they think they are, they probably aren’t – are using the opening of a new shopping mall to create their latest pieces of content. This, as we should all be aware, is the most important activity a human can currently engage in. The pretentiously shallow trio know all the right jargon and bang on relentlessly about creating a space, mindfulness, empowerment, positive and negative energy  and so on, in a roll call of cliches which becomes risible. Underneath they are really doing it to get “likes”, sell products at vastly inflated prices (a bottle of water anyone?) and garner approval (financial reward?) from their sponsors. Frankly, they are the sort of people who I’d very likely cross the road to avoid.

269233540_2078917275619064_3736137447772000808_nOne of them let’s slip that the building has been created on the site of an old mine and it quickly becomes evident that the restless spirits of the former occupants want nothing to do with these aggravating interlopers and decide to take their revenge. The phone signals start to break up and the feed becomes ever more erratic to the point where, as a viewer, you can’t be sure whether the tech is breaking down or it’s just part of the action. It’s the sort of thing which made The Blair Witch Project such a success, except that here, instead of a dark wood, events are happening in the strip lighting of a modern shopping centre. The piece is a reframed update of Edgar Allen Poe’s short story The Masque Of The Red Death though the connection isn’t immediately apparent. In the original a group of spoiled nobles shut themselves away in secluded opulence while a plague is ravaging the outside world. Just as the protagonists (and the rest of us?) all hide behind a carapace of consumerism and meaningless verbiage – especially as a disease threatens our own existence? Or am I overthinking this?

268318520_2078917268952398_1236547887557232251_nMasque is written by Kate Webster and directed by Lou Corben and takes the form of “found footage” from the participants’ phones. As there are no credits and the website doesn’t give any details it is difficult to namecheck the actors although I did recognise CI artistic director Joe Strickland from previous appearances. The piece is not due to stay around for long and is currently popping up at scheduled times on four different social media platforms (Instagram, Facebook, You Tube and Twitch – new one on me). Once again Chronic Insanity have come up with something intriguing and at only 20 minutes it won’t consume a lot of your time; however, it manages to say quite a bit more than many productions a dozen times the length. To meet their 2021 target, CI have one piece left to deliver in the next ten days. Directorship is the projected title and that is currently all we have – looking forward to it already.

Masque is available via various social media platforms; details appear on Chronic Insanity’s social media feeds which can be accessed from their website’s home page – click here  

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