Pareidolia 2020: a review and reflection on theatre’s existence in a now digital landscape

Phone Box Theatre are a new, independent company based across the Midlands. They set out to tackle issues of connection, isolation and communication in a world full of distractions- incredibly relevant to today. Pareidolia 2020 is their first film. The entire piece was constructed through the COVID-19 Pandemic, and the themes of our time stand out at its core. It tackles obsession, seclusion and aftermath: three experiences everyone can relate to at the minute. And it does so with both incredible attack and nuance.

 

It features just three actors playing a role each: Mr X (Caetano Capuro), Mrs Z (Helen Brown) and Mx Y (Jayran Lear). At the beginning, they appear to be three friends communicating via Zoom call- surely something we know all too well at the moment. But as the piece and its poetry unravel, the truth is much darker, and we learn just how their lives intertwine. The way the three perform odes great justice to the truth of living at home and communicating digitally. The way they interact via webcam compared with the solo moments of monologues contrasts in all textures: visuals, delivery, and writing. It shows how pandemic life has caused us all to almost create two versions of ourselves, and this short film highlights the detriment of this effect. 

 

Written and directed by Daniel McVey, the piece is an intense cacophony of lit poetry (inspired by Tennyson and Baum to name a few), dramatic phrasing and conversational dialogue. The jagged edges of the contrasting formats create a gritty and unsettling texture for the film. This reinforces the meta, which is already strong. The very writing is an example of the title’s definition: Pareidolia is the tendency to perceive a specific, often meaningful image in a random or ambiguous pattern. 

 

Pareidolia particularly applies to a visual pattern, and the visuals are definitely a key strength. It excels in editing, highlighting a positive of film that theatre perhaps lags behind in. The intense colour saturation at certain points creates a pressurised and tense climate for the speech and intentions of the characters to exist in. The piece consistently, and successfully, toys with any nonsense within the mundane and this is executed well with the clash of animations and stark, bleak bedroom Zoom shots. Laura Wolczyk’s and Sam Osborne’s production is a real talent. 

 

A comment on pandemic life mixed with the experience of trauma wouldn’t be complete without asking the audience about hopelessness and hopefulness. A point in the film where this is executed most poignantly is the line ‘zero has some weight’. The complexity, yet simplicity of the line, speaks to us all- there is heaviness in the nothingness. As our lives are removed of norm and routine, our load does not lighten- but it increases. 

 

In addition to the context of the piece, Pareidolia sums up the incredibly current battle between theatre and film. As live theatre is having to subside into increasingly digital/multimedia platforms, the tropes and rituals of the play are reacting to new cinematic styling and it’s fascinating to watch. This piece has got me excited for what’s to come for UK theatre in 2021.