I Love You, BroLeft - Ash Flanders. Photo - Kenny Mathieson

It’s no mean feat for one person to hold an audience intently for an hour and a quarter just telling a story.  Ash Flanders did just that in an engaging piece of theatre that is exemplary story telling. It is given all the more power by being based on a true case.

In rapid fire Manchester accent, which meant occasional words were lost, he unveils the complex story of a desperately lonely 14 year old Johnny becoming infatuated and obsessed with 16 year old Mark through an internet chat room. Such is the seductive power of the chat room, which offers both anonymity and excitement, that Johnny weaves an extraordinary web of fantasy in which both boys get caught.

Johnny finds himself in love with Mark at the other end of his computer, but horrifies himself because “it’s fag love between two non-fags!”  His sexual confusion, social isolation and desperate need to be loved drive him to invent an unlikely array of characters and circumstances that are equally seductive to Mark to the point that he colludes with Johnny’s contrivance of his own murder (by Mark) which Johnny convinces himself is the only way out. In reality this boy survived, which is why this extraordinary monologue can be told in the first person.

Peppered though the narrative also are hints of a sub-plot indicating the dysfunctional and violent family background of this love-hungry boy, who created an elaborate deception of girls, boys, lies and spies which became an unstoppable juggernaut, finally hurtling to a murderous denouement.

On a very simple stage, with some apposite sound, and minimalist projection on to the back wall, and with only a chair, his jacket and its sleeves, and his forehead as props, Ash Flanders kept a capacity audience spellbound from start to horrifying finish. He was able to interrupt the flow of his narrative occasionally to explain to the uninformed what some of the chat slang meant, and to elucidate his feelings as the plot thickened, and then seamlessly return to the story.

IMHO this is a remarkable piece of acting, nicely directed by Yvonne Versik, showing scarily the power and risks of cyber chat for the vulnerable. Clearly it is a phenomenon of modern life that is here to stay, but while it may be unlikely to spawn many episodes as bizarre as this, it is also one we should get to know and examine seriously as a society.

Three to a Room presents
I Love You, Bro
by Adam J. A. Cass

Part of the 2009 Adelaide Fringe Festival

Venue: The Spiegeltent, in the Garden of Unearthly Delights
Date/Time: Monday 16th March, 2009 @ 8.30pm
Tickets: $28 / $23
Bookings: 1300 FRINGE (1300 374 643) or www.adelaidefringe.com.au

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