Emily Jenkins’ Cookies sends an important message about the power of social media and its capacity to affect  lives in the internet age.

You cannot escape the internet. More than 75 per cent of five to 10 years old have their own personal tablet or laptop, whilst a third of under-fives have an iPad. Every teenager’s worst nightmare is a day without their phone, so for a generation growing up unaware of a world without ubiquitous internet access, there’s plenty of platforms through which to show off, stalk your ex, get jealous and live your online life. Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram, they’re just the beginning.

It’s this world of online communication that playwright Emily Jenkins seeks to tackle in her new production at the Theatre Royal Haymarket, Cookies. Set around a series of intertwining stories, she deals with the difficult issues of revenge porn, gangs, sexuality, obsessive fan-girling and online grooming. The latter is arguably the most arresting in its subject matter, approaching the topic of IS recruitment and radicalisation.

The cast deserve the standing ovation they received after Sunday night’s performance. Following a process of college workshops run by The Cyberscene Project, where participants were encouraged to tell their own stories and translate those into theatre, a range of students were selected for the cast ensemble alongside seven principles. It’s a delight to see such a range of ethnicities and cultural backgrounds represented on the stage, a telling indication of the importance of the arts in expressing the views and challenges faced by young people.

Jenkins has a hard task to avoid the inevitable trap of trying to appear ‘down with the kids’, which is why the workshop approach clearly works wonders in creating effective and powerful performances on stage. Through her poetic dialogue, spat out in a rap style, the play  lyrically conveys the very real emotions that occur behind the facade of a phone screen. The humorous moments are well-timed, demonstrating the blurred line between banter and bullying.

The simple staging allows director Anna Ledwich’s cast to flourish; their enigmatic performances fill the space with ease. Standouts include Cristal Cole as Eva, the victim of a slut-shaming Facebook post sharing naked photographs of her, and tough, gay Sosa (Leaphia Darko) who meets her rap idol on a fateful night in Brixton.

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Cristal Cole (image courstey of Pamela Raith)

Although Cookies ends with some sense of redemption for our main characters, tying up the narrative with a positive message of hope, the audience is left with the unsettling feeling that the events played out on stage would not be so neatly concluded in the real world. The pictures of Eva might have been deleted, but anyone with a smart phone (i.e. pretty near everyone) could have screenshotted them, and the matter is far from case closed for her and her family and friends. Once something’s out there, it’s likely to be out there forever in one form or another.

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Shala Nyx (imag courtesy of Pamela Raith)

Although Cookies only ran for two performances at the Theatre Royal Haymarket, there’s every hope that it will tour. It is undoubtedly be of interest to any parent with a child in their formative teenage years, and can provide insightful for teachers and counselling services alike. With such an empowering message to young people to never let anyone else define who they are, online or offline, it would be a shame for Cookies to end here.

 

★★★★★

To read more about Cookies, which played the Theatre Royal Haymarket on 29 October 2017, follow the company on Twitter (@Masterclasstrh) or visit the website – masterclass.org.uk

Follow the link for an interview with writer, Emily Jenkins.

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