Sad-Vents, VAULT Festival

By Luisa De la Concha Montes

Taking the cam-girl to a whole new level, Sad-Vents follows Eleanor Hill as she broadcasts her life journey to her Instagram followers from her messy bedroom. Surrounded by girly paraphernalia (condom wrappers, pregnancy tests, magazines, and the sweaters of her exes), Eleanor takes us on a 75-minute long monologue which explores topics such as abuse, loss, toxic relationships and sexuality through the lens of dark comedy. The title is entirely adequate; imitating the self-indulgent and voyeuristic nature of online venting, the play invites us to reflect on the consequences, trivialities and dangers of online commodification.

The design is visually mesmerising and creative, as it allows a gamified interaction between Eleanor’s real body and Eleanor’s digital self. This creates a new level of intimacy, explored through varying phone angles that would have been impossible to achieve otherwise. Quite literally, we can see what she is hiding under the sheets. However, the interactive opportunities that the format presented are not explored to their full potential. At the start of the play, Eleanor gives us permission to film her, photograph her or scroll on our phones. However, since there is no active incentive to do so, audience members rarely engage with the content online. In fact, at the end of the play I am surprised to see that I received several messages from Eleanor on Instagram (that were nicely timed with what she was saying on stage). This would be much more interesting if she prompted us to check our phones as the messages were delivered.

At times, it feels that the narrative lacks nuance. The script, which blends serious moments with comedic remarks, glosses over complex subjects such as loss, mental health and trauma. For instance, a running joke throughout the show is how Eleanor blames all of her issues on her dead mum. This is initially funny, but after a while, it becomes overplayed. Some parts of this trope, such as her morbid enjoyment from making people uncomfortable, or the way in which her experience translates into abandonment issues in her relationships, are relatable. However, by ironically linking everything back to her mum, she trivialises her loss, alienating the audience from her emotions, rather than bringing them closer to understanding her pain. The strongest scenes, such as when she tells us how she found out about her mum’s passing at the age of five or when she talks about her favourite bench in her local park, are those in which Eleanor stops hiding behind comedy, and instead shows her vulnerability.

Perhaps there is an intentionality to this. Perhaps, since the story aims to re-tell everything through the black mirror of social media, the lack of nuance in Eleanor’s character is meant to reflect how social media platforms oversimplify reality into straight-forward categories of likes and dislikes. Despite this, Hill’s performance is extraordinarily dynamic and fun. In those 75 minutes, she briskly uses her body to take us through an endless array of emotions. As a solo performer, this paramount achievement does not go unnoticed.

At the core of Sad-Vents lies discomfort. Eleanor pushes the audience’s boundaries, actively exploring what might be ‘too much’ (is it her pleasure moans while she enacts masturbation? Is it the photo of a corpse as she talks about her dead mum? Is it the raw description of how she dreams of murdering her abuser?) By allowing us to be voyeurs of her internal monologue, Eleanor creates an intimate portrait that, despite being imperfect at times, allows us to face the demons of surveillance and hyper-connectivity.

Sad-Vents runs through 3 February.

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