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Corn Exchange - A/S/L

17th to 19th November 2003.

From the Newbury Weekly News.

Internet lure to murder

A/S/L, performed by The Pilot Theatre Group at The Corn Exchange on November 19

You would think that with all the time we spend staring at computer screens waiting for something to happen, the last thing we'd want to watch of an evening would be a play about the Internet.

A/S/L stands for age/sex/location and takes place, for the most part, in cyberspace. Characters interact via Internet chat rooms, e-mails and websites. Stay with me though, as far from being a piece of gimmicky 'down with the kids' youth theatre, A/S/L is an engaging drama which uses modern technology to examine issues of communication, isolation and reality.

In short, a million times more entertaining than another evening writing to people you like enough to e-mail, but not enough to phone.

Our protagonist is Livia, a 14-year-old with an unusual interest. Like many teens she spends far too long on-line. Unlike many teens she is fascinated by murders, more specifically children who have killed their parents and vice-versa.

Her website, 'The Garden of Remembrance', is a shrine to the young victims of these crimes. Her point is that everyone remembers the names of killers, but never the victims.

Her parents are seemingly unaware of her hobby. In fact, they seem unaware of her altogether (yes, yes, it's all a bit Sixth Sense/The Others).

Operating in a parallel time they move in the same space, Livia's room. While they go about their daily life, much of which is taken up by trying to clean an ominous red stain from the carpet, Livia talks to her friend on the web.

Her closest mate is Squib, a 17-year-old she's never met. Luring him in with promises of sex, she gets him to track down macabre stories.

Eventually they make a deal. He finds information for her site; she types dirty. This all goes along fine until we discover that Livia has created an alternative persona for her web chats. Jenny, as she calls her, is a manipulator.

She also takes her name from Livia's sister, who died in unexplained circumstances when she was a teen.

Jenny twists children's minds and those of their parents when possible, making them believe they have no choice but to kill. Carla's parents are the first victims, but this is just the beginning.

Jenny incites people to murder without a second thought, but Livia feels the guilt. It is almost as though she is possessed.

This may not sound like a bag of laughs, yet the talented cast pull quite a few jokes out of a black-humour bag.

The play is bitter-sweet, with strong themes, but without the sense that a moral message is being hammered home.

Hi-tech lighting, an ingenious set and appropriate music contributed, but it was the actors and directing that really shone through.

Unique and powerful, this was gripping stuff.