Violent pornography? Gone. Non-offensive insults? Stay. “God is gay”? That one’s up for debate.
Debate is what the characters in Phil Porter’s play do – a lot. Well, not so much debate as argue. Set in the moderation department of a social media company’s offices, the staff are as petty, polarised and argumentative as the trolls they monitor.
Stan (Ryan Early) is a would-be coder, still living with his mum at 40 but generally chipper. Rosa (Lizzy Watts) is often on the right side of an argument, but irreparably jaded, snarky, and aggressive. The new recruit, Becky (Laura Waldren), righteously earnest, feels the job is her calling.
At first, the characters feel like ciphers for opposing opinions on the ethics of moderation, with a tendency to monologue about the state of the world – moderators aren’t “cleaners”, just “tidiers”, sweeping the scary shit under the carpet; the internet hasn’t made people worse, it’s just human nature.
Porter’s play is more confident, though, when playing up office drama tropes – the jealousies, the frustrated romance, the bitching, the bullying. Stan’s dashed hopes for a transfer and Rosa’s attempt at conciliation are warmly human moments.
In David Mercatali’s production, the office intermittently goes dark (faulty motion-sensing lights), and later the characters work only by the glow of their computers. A last act is set on a stark, white sound stage – lit by Malcolm Rippeth with great sensitivity for the play’s dramaturgy and tonal shifts.
A sleek and stylish production, but the play feels a little schematic, and ultimately lightweight considering its subject matter.