Cotton, Waterloo East Theatre/Vault Festival – Review

L-R: Kieran (Ben Mallett), Tammi (Franci Donovon-Brady) and Glen (Will Penhey)

Imagine you could take a pill that could bestow prolonged periods of effortless intense concentration. What would you use it for? To help get through hangovers while at work? Help finish writing one’s essay/thesis/novel/presentation? Written and directed by Alex Benjamin, Cotton looks at this hypothesis through the angle of playing computer games competitively.

Kieran (Ben Mallett), Tammi (Franci Donovon-Brady) and Glen (Will Penhey) are part of the same team, but Kieran – their star player – performed unsatisfactory during the last tournament. Glen, his brother, defends him, but deep down he feels badly about the way things went down. Tammi is less ‘understanding’ than Glen and makes no bones about her ‘displeasure’.

Glen (Will Penhey) and Tammi (Franci Donovon-Brady)

Spending time with Kieran, Glen gets to the bottom of Kieran’s behaviour – he’s stopped taking the ‘miracle’ pill, which strictly speaking should only be used for those prescribed with ADHD. Worried he’s become addicted to them, Kieran’s decided that going ‘cold turkey’ is what he needs to do. Glen, however, rationalises its use, in the same way that athletes take steroids and painkillers.

Observing all of this is their father Alan (George Fincher). While he tries to be supportive, football is more his speed. That’s not to say he doesn’t have anything to do with technology – he runs his own Arsenal blog. But to treat playing games as a ‘serious’ life-and-death pastime? Neither Alan or Glen can make themselves excited about the other’s hobby…

Buried within Cotton are some interesting ideas such as the disparity of interests between fathers and sons, the sporting world versus ‘anything else’, and the psychology of those who send most of their free-time playing computer games. Looking at the bigger picture, the psychology of any group in a particular activity bears closer scrutiny and through the character of Tammi – an outsider in a fringe group – we see her as part of her day job coaxing game players to purchase an app so that they’ll have more of a ‘life’.

As for the playing of computer games being an intergral plot device, this has the potential for more development. Details regarding the game itself, who else plays it and why groups of people play it could be further expanded on, indirectly giving clues to its sociological importance in the narrative.

© Michael Davis 2018

Cotton plays at Waterloo East Theatre as part of the Vault Festival until 18th February.

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