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You really must log on to Age-Sex-Location at the Riverside

Review by Emma Whitelaw

"AT YOUR fingertips is a world of infinite possibilities..."

Being an avid fan of the Internet, I am of the belief that there is nothing you can't find on it. Whether it be pre-sale tickets to the latest gig, designer handbags, or even your soul mate, it's all there, and it's all up for grabs.

This then poses the question, if you can find anything online, can you find yourself?

Age-Sex-Location, written by Marcus Markou and playing at the Riverside Studios, deals with issues of identity. It is a darkly comic play, set in the realms of cyberspace, where the characters project images of themselves that are… well, let's say, slightly skewed.

Just who we are online and the kind of mask we wear is entirely up to us.

But what is the 'netiquette' on how far you can go in a chatroom? When does a white lie turn black?

There really are no rules; the Internet can act as a guise for our 'real selves'; it can open up a window on a whole new world, a world in which we are able to create a virtual self and mingle with virtual others.

Ed Stoppard (who recently appeared in Roman Polanski's Oscar-winning The Pianist) plays Dave, a genius programmer, who creates this very kind of world.

Freetopia is an idealistic paradise where the characters can interact with one another from the comfort of their own homes.

Stoppard is, of course, brilliant. He flawlessly conveys the amicable traits of Dave - God the Almighty, of Freetopia, who later finds himself to be challenged by his own mutinous creations, before realising that the real world isn't so bad.

Mini Mouse (Amber Agar) has a crush on Dave and wants to take the relationship from virtual to reality.

But this presents all sorts of problems for Dave...

Having built up the image of being an intellectual mastermind over the Internet, he feels threatened, and promptly asks her: "Are you sure really want to meet Dave, the complete prat?"

It is at this point, audiences realise that the perfect little world Dave has created for himself, and his followers, is about to come crashing down.

Reality and virtually reality, like oil and water, simply don't mix.

There are many references to both religion and philosophy.

Rachel (Jane How, of EastEnders fame), who can't stop crying, is referred to as 'Our Lady of Tears', and is worshiped by a small following in South America.

Omer Barnea is fantastic as Gus, who could be likened to the devil himself. He is evil, manipulative and plays on people's insecurities.

He wreaks havoc upon Freetopia and is responsible for Dave's eventual downfall.

Both Ewen MacIntosh (from BBC's hit series, The Office) and Katherine Jakeways (GMTV) give side-splitting performances.

MacIntosh plays Trevor, who has recently lost his wife on account of his lack of manhood, and Jakeways, a wheel-chair bound dominatrix, who soon teaches the size-conscious Trevor a lesson or two!

Credit must be given also to Sven Ortel's video and lighting design.

The moment you walk into the theatre, you sense that this isn't your run-of-the-mill production.

The use of several monitors suspended above the audience is compelling - it's as if you are in the chatroom with the characters as they upload, download and chat away.

The second act is especially gripping as the virtual world grows and becomes even more real.

The characters are now projected digitally on to hanging reams of fabric.

Their voices are filtered to sound electronically echoic. When the characters later appear on stage, physically, it reinforces the fine balance between reality and virtual reality.

Age-Sex-Location is bold, fresh and edgy. It is a modern take on the age old philosophies of Descartes' 'I think, therefore I am', and the Dualist theory of the Ghost in the Machine.

Is reality based on matter, mind or a culmination of both? Could mind or matter ever be simulated to the point where they, too, can become real?

Markou has used the medium of theatre to replicate the silicon world of cyberspace and, I must say, it works perfectly.

Like the theatre, the Internet is a space where you can let your own imagination run wild, and engage in the imagination of others.

Age-Sex-Location toys with the boundaries of reality. Freetopia has all the elements of the real world - politics, God, religion, balance/imbalance of power, love, hate, relationships, security, and insecurity. But where does this electronic world end, and the real one begin?

This is a fantastically thought provoking production, especially since Age-Sex-Location, like the Internet, has the power to be anything you want it to be.

Age-Sex-Location by Marcus Markou. Directed by Pip Pickering. Original story by Marcus Markou and Richard Redman. Starring Ed Stoppard, Amber Agar, Omer Barnea, Richard Durden, Jane How, Katherine Jakeways and Ewen MacIntosh. Video and lighting design by Sven Ortel for Mesmer. Associate video design by Dick Straker for Mesmer. Composer Conor Mitchell. Presented by Titus Media Ltd & Paul Savident at Riverside Studios, Crisp Road, Hammersmith, London W6. Tickets 020 8237 1111.
Playing until February 28, 2004.

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