The Collab, The Space – Livestreamed Broadcast

In the wake of the #MeToo movement, stories about sexual harassment have shown no signs of abating in all spheres of life. The only difference now is where have infractions not been reported..? In Lauren Morley’s The Collab (which is directed by Rachael Bellis), we meet Ella Blair (Louise Lord), a video blogger who is gaining traction with her content about environmentally friendly clothing.

L-R: Andre Frey, Maria Eastwood Krah, Louise Lord and Clark Alexander

Aiding Ella with her digital endeavours is her best friend Kat (Maria Eastwood Krah) – a budding fashion photographer who is having limited success raising money to replace a damaged camera lens. When the friends cross paths with seasoned social media influencer Max Jessup (Andre Frey), his presence sets in motion a chain of events that changes both their lives and threatens to drive a wedge between them…

Photos © Paddy Gormley

The principal characters address the thorny relationship between content and context in ‘art’, particularly with regards to female nudity. In many ways their conversation is a litmus test for how in sync (or not) they are, with tell-tale hints that they are not on the same page about many things. As knowledgable as Ella is about art theory and representation, we also see she is inexperienced with gauging people’s trustworthiness or what they really mean, even when they seem to say the ‘right thing’. This can be explained in part by Ella’s altruistic friendship with Kat, the bar for Ella’s other relationships.

It would be easy to paint Max as a two-dimensional character, but a closer look at his actions in general show someone who is ‘consistent’ in his behaviour. As someone whose whole life revolves around his online presence and wanting to be the centre of attention, Max exhibits narcissistic traits. But beyond this, what sets Max apart from other people in similar positions is the ‘next level’ adeptness at gaslighting. Rather than thinking that the present rules of conduct prohibit any misconduct, Max revels in subverting the ‘rules of engagement’ to get his own way – much like a politician.

While the respective best friends are initially less prominent in the play, their own character arcs provide a contrasting persective to Ella and Max, and are less predictable in their interactions. Unlike Ella, Kat is not comfortable being in the limelight and from her experiences, more worldly-wise and wary of ‘favours’ – particularly when they come unexpectedly from men. As for Max’s friend Brett (Clark Alexander), he is initially an ‘unknown quanity’. However, because of his friendship, Kat (and to some degree the audience) are unsure whether Brett has an agenda or secretly possesses Max’s qualities. A case of being judged by the company you keep…

Ultimately, the play addresses the red flags that are ignored or obfuscated when in relationships, the excuses we make for emotionally manipulative behaviour and who really has the ‘power’ in such situations. However bad things turn out, whoever controls the narrative can swing public opinion…

© Michael Davis 2022

The Collab runs at The Space Arts Centre, London, until 11th June. The play will also be livestreamed on Wednesday 8th June.


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