A lost young woman turns her life around, exercises like mad and is transformed into an internet sensation. A New and Better You has a straightforward plot arc but Joe Harbot’s wild play is anything but. Here is a gleefully confident work about the hollowing impact of the internet age, shot through with the kind of anarchic energy that has come to epitomise plays at the Yard.
There’s something eerily off about Cheryl Gallacher’s thrilling production: the suggestion of a dark and unseen force controlling the action from the wings. That brooding energy tingles behind Harbot’s stark and vibrant writing, which has a weirdly mesmeric quality. Listening to his softly pounding prose has the same eye-glazing feeling as browsing the internet. Bethany Wells’s set is lit up with abstract computer game graphics and it is as if the protagonist is an unwitting hero in a game she cannot see.
A sense of danger also lurks behind Jess Bernberg’s heightened neon lighting and Josh Anio Grigg’s spiky sound design. It infuses all the performances, which amuse first and unsettle later. Alex Austin plays a PR guru of zero substance. He glides about the stage with loose limbs and a watery smile and constantly turns to the audience for approval. Hannah Traylen exercises to the point of annihilation, sweat dripping from her body. Her broad smile – success! – does not reach her eyes.
This is a restless and brave production, always on the point of implosion. A clawing sense of transience begins to build: this set, these actors, this shiny new identity could disappear in a flash, with just the click of a button.
- A New and Better You is at the Yard, London, until 14 July.