Expelled confirms what we all really think about social media

Antony Coleman and Charmaine Weir-Smith

THE photograph above reiterates that. It was all fun and FarmVille back in the old days but social media has become insidiously evil (yes) and alarmingly damaging, especially to young users. Just the other day, US Congress grilled social media executives about the damage their platforms do; and Wikipedia says “There is substantial evidence that the internet and social media can influence suicide-related behavior. Such evidence includes an increase in exposure to graphic content. According to a research study by Sameer Hinduja and Justin Patchin, there is also a correlation between cyberbullying and suicide.”

Rosalind Butler wrote Expelled, which was created out of How Now Brown Cow’s script development programme, The Writers’ Collective, which was launched during hard lockdown in 2020. It’s highly topical and sadly will likely remain that way for quite some time. Not sadly for the play – it’s excellent – but unfortunately for the often life-destroying repercussions of anything that gets posted online. Which is there forever, unless you have extremely good dark web contacts.

Craig Freimond directs Charmaine Weir-Smith as Lou, who as an adult is just as susceptible to the gilded allure of Facebook promises to stalk her friends and gather recipes (Instagram is better for that, I am not immune either); the incredible Antony Coleman as Rich (we are not related so I can say I have the hugest admiration for his acting without it being weird); and Nicolas Hattingh as their adolescent son Alex.

Charmaine Weir-Smith and Nicolas Hattingh

Anyone who has had experience with teenage boys (and girls) will know they do stupid things. They are entirely self-obsessed and oblivious to the consequences of their actions. You’d think they of all people, of all the generations, would be sussed as to the impact of social media, or even just sharing content with friends. But no. See: teenagers, stupid. It was all just a bit of “harmless” fun. And then they can go and surprise you.

And so it comes to pass Alex, in his matric year at a top school, does exactly that. His future is in ruins, and Rich is apoplectic. Lou is all “he’s a sweet boy, he’s not like that”, in between scrolling mindlessly on Facebook (the old person’s platform). Little does she know, her darling boy is exhorting his girlfriend to take off her top on face time.

With so much damage being done to everyone involved in this story, and the seriousness of the message behind it, Expelled remains darkly comic, with the cast being skilfully directed to deliver their lines, their facial expressions, their body language, with perfect timing which exposes their vulnerability. We are not only laughing at them, but at ourselves too. A bit nervously perhaps, as we hold the mirror up to ourselves. It’s a rare creature who has no social media presence, one which is regarded with distrust and suspicion. Who are these psychopaths? Probably very happy ones though. And who among us hasn’t at some point said we’re done with it all? And yet, here we are…

Amelia Smith and Charmaine Weir-Smith

“The topicality of Expelled immediately appealed to How Now Brown Cow and we are proud to have nurtured it’s development through The Writers’ Collective,” says Julie-Anne McDowell, founder of and producer at How Now Brown Cow.  “It is a pertinent play for our social media obsessed world, and we believe it’s critical impact will resonate loudly for years to come. We all need to witness this valuable story.” 

The intimacy of the Golden Arrow Theatre is the perfect setting for this play, and no spoilers but the technology of the staging is not just for effect but cleverly used to expand the cast and flesh out the story we are not immediately seeing. I loved Expelled from beginning to end, uncomfortable moments included, and the standing ovation was so well deserved. This year is getting off to a great theatrical start.

Expelled runs in the Golden Arrow Studio at The Baxter until 2 March, and thereafter at Joburg’s Market Theatre from 7 to 31 March 2024. Tickets, from R160 to R240, are available at Webtickets

Performances are Tuesdays to Saturdays at 8pm, Saturday matinees on 17, 24 February at 3pm, and schools’ performances on Tuesdays 13, 20, 27 February at 11am. Age advisory: parental guidance advised, recommended for 14+ “This production is a must see for all high school learners who make use of social media, and for their parents wading through the minefield,” say the producers. To this end, significant school learner discounts will be on offer via Jeff Brooker on [email protected] at R160 per ticket. 

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PHOTO CREDIT: Daniel Rutland Manners

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