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Review of Hacktivists by Ben Ockrent performed by R&D Youth Theatre at Royal & Derngate (Underground), Northampton

The National Theatres Connections series of plays had been one of my highlights of my trips to R&D during 2014. Their short and snappy single act style kept them all interesting and never overstaying their welcome. So I was more than ready for my first encounter with one of this years Connections plays ahead of the main week of performances at R&D later in the year.

Hacktivists is written by Ben Ockrent, whose slightly wacky but socially relevant play Breeders I had seen at St James Theatre last year. Hacktivists is less surreal, but does have a fair selection of what some people would call odd. Myself of the other hand would very much be home with them. So we are presented with thirteen nerdy "friends" who meet to hack, very much in what is termed the white hat variety. This being for good, as we join them they appear to have done very little more than hacked and created some LED light device.

Crashing in to spoil the party however comes Beth (Emma-Ann Cranston) and her radical ideas for where this group should go. Not long into the group, she is taunting group leader Anna (Safia Hall) to attempt to get into a party at the resident school bullies home. Not long later #MassiveBellEnd is treading and thousands are viewing a video of Anna's shame on social media. It's then not long before Beth is performing a coup d'état on the hackers group and engineering those within to work towards her own nefarious and black hat interests.

All of the actors involved bring visible differences to their roles and although it is difficult to single out individuals for praise, both Safia Hall and Emma-Ann Cranston really bring the respective gentle and wickedness to their roles. Cranston's character is to all intents and purposes a bully herself invading the safe haven of the nerds portacabin, and as we learn is also not a friend of little cute creatures either. Sam Barker as Hugs is also notable, acting well above his physical stature and along with Brian Basusu as Mark coping well in this female dominated performance (although I assume that like the Connections I saw last year, the gender of all these roles is interchangeable depending on the balance available).

Ockrent's script is sparky and furiously fast paced in this roughly forty-five minute play with many a funny line on offer, many just cast aside with the speed of it all. A particularly cracking line comes from the aforementioned creature incident. Also for a short play the characters are also well defined, including the secretary who is secretary simply because they "like stationary".

The set is also a nerds wet dream, filled with computers, bits of computers, and posters aplenty featuring technology and sci-fi subject matter adorning the wall. There simply is so much going on in such a small place as the Underground that it very much feels like a teenagers bedroom, or in this case multiple ones.

Director Ashley Elbourne has created a cleverly constructed piece within the genuinely small area on offer, including clever interludes of light play from the four burglar-dressed ensemble. His young cast are all excellent, playing their confidently and assured. This is another cracker to begin my viewing of Connections 2015 and a thoroughly entertaining little play.



Performance reviewed: Saturday 7th March, 2015 (matinee) at the Royal & Derngate (Underground), Northampton.

Hacktivists by Ben Ockrent is one of the 2015 Connections plays, details of which can be found here: 
http://connections.nationaltheatre.org.uk/. It was performed by the R&D Youth Theatre at the Royal & Derngate on Friday 6th March and Saturday 7th March, 2015.

The play will be performed on the Royal stage on Saturday 2nd May, 2015 as part of the National Theatre Connections tour.

For further details about the Royal & Derngate visit their website at http://www.royalandderngate.co.uk/

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