Melbourne Fringe 2016

NXT LVL Infinity, Melbourne Fringe 2016

0 Comments 04 October 2016

Words by Eliza Janssen

Curmudgeonly equation of social media obsession and religious idolatry isn’t exactly a fresh idea. The mere mention of any non-analogue technology in the immediate radius of an older relative is enough to spark cries of ‘you kids worship those things!’ NXT LVL infinity, an interactive sci-fi play devised by Hot Box, takes this tired argument and turns it into entertaining theatre.

Five of the most popular personalities on Youtube, Tumblr, and Instagram are promised the chance to ascend beyond their physical form to a godlike state by a being of artificial intelligence, here represented by a stack of crates filled with white lights. With this level of exposition to get through, the show’s audience interaction is a (cyber)Godsend – until we’re prompted to log onto ‘The Ascension’s app and leave live comments on the proceedings, it’s easy to feel kind of overwhelmed.

Trouble is, between the interactive element and the high fantasy element, there’s not too much room to delve into each personality’s motivations. ‘Albie’, a heavily-filtered #nofilter Instagram starlet, is allowed one stirring scene revealing her driving insecurity, but the Hunger Games-esque elimination of characters means that most of the cast are relegated to roles that are more symbolic than they are emotionally realised.

NXT LVL infinity’s ultimate potential is best displayed when its satire is specific, earning big laughs in its mockery of certain breeds of internet celebrity. St. Bastion, a music Youtuber, boasts of his covers of ‘deep’ songs like Coldplay’s Fix You and Mad World by Gary Jules, and every audience member has likely endured the same kinds of self-indulgent videos in their time on the internet. Memetic recognition like this is initially funny, but it mutates into something more meaningful when the audience’s comments on each performer are projected in real-time onto the ceiling behind them. I can’t tell whether jabs at female characters’ ‘great tits’ and dry commands to ‘kill yourself’ were typed by the cast or by my fellow audience members, but it doesn’t matter either way; seeing the performers obliviously rant at us from the foreground while we rip them to shreds in the background is fascinating, in a car-crash way.

There are times when Hot Box’s skewering of social media superficiality is more general, and these criticisms are less successful. The show opens with each internet personality heralding each point they accrue, barking out, ’Like!’ Follow! Subscribe! Two follows!’ in what amounts to a five-person circle-jerk. A fairly rote depiction of how masturbatory self-promotion works. But thankfully NXT LVL infinity’s obvious affection for sci-fi tropes and commitment to the glittery pageantry on display more than make up for some lapses into ‘kids-these-days’ grouchiness.

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