Dante or Die: User Not Found

A pair of headphones and an iPhone are all the audience are given when inside the Jeelie Piece café. Once instructed to wear them, the background noise of a different café comes through – or is it this café? Who’s in this café? Are they actors? – along with a voice: ‘Listen… I could be anybody.’ The café slowly comes to life as the lights dim and the voice is revealed to be coming from a man in the real cafe. Terry. We learn that Terry is grieving the death of his ex-boyfriend, Luka. In this semi-black mirror reality, Terry must decide what happens to Luka’s online presence and history after his death.

This premise is not entirely fictional, in 2013 Facebook created an option for people to either remove or memorialise their deceased loved ones’ accounts. Similarly, Twitter will now close or archive accounts of the deceased. The inheritance of digital assets that comes along with this is a pressing matter which has not been fully explored, as it surely will be, within theatre. This one-man show, created by Dante or Die, and performed by the company’s co-director Terry O’Donovan (smudging boundaries between fictional character and real-life person), sets the trend…

User Not Found delves into these themes using headphones to blur the lines between social and private space in the café, just as they’re blurred in contemporary life by the access to fake news and madness inducing, Facebook-stalking habits that our little black slabs allow (as Terry explores). The iPhones dished out to the audience are synchronised with Terry’s so we get a real-time display of him receiving text messages of condolence and scrolling through old pictures of Luka, blurred out as he struggles to process the fallout of his passing.

The interactive design of the phone interfaces are acutely observational to how we engage with our phones and work as a fantastic device (aha) for involving the audience in the plot progression. The orientation of the phones’ display will move to landscape when Terry watches music videos, forcing the audience to pick up the phone; although, some of the subtler interactive functions of the phones go amiss (which shan’t be revealed for spoiler purposes). Facilitating the sense of exploration needed for an interactive theatrical experience is a tad more difficult when the audience are sitting in a dimly-lit café, as opposed to running around a maze.

User Not Found is a clever piece of new writing that incorporates immersive sound design and interactive digital media. It not only explores a topic that is prevalent, but also breaks new ground in how technology can be utilised in immersive theatrical landscapes, and does so to provokingly explore individual experiences of those bereaved and  grieving. Much like the presence of technology in our daily lives, User Not Found is both humanising in its unifying nature, yet also unrelenting in its pervasiveness.



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About Ciaran Hammond

Ciaran Hammond is an actor, director, writer and theatre maker with a background in devised theatre. Ciaran works with absurdist theatre makers LoudGround (UK) as an associate artist, and is a founding member of physical theatre company, Romantika (SWE/UK). Ciaran has a BA(Hons) in European Theatre Arts from Rose Bruford College of Theatre and Performance, and also trained at the Estonian Academy of Music and Theatre as an actor. Ciaran is interested in collaborative methods of theatre making, and is drawn towards the weird and wonderful. He also does a little bit of juggling.