Rory Horne’s bold new play should tell you everything you need to know about what it interrogates in its title alone. In a world where people meet online, sometimes without ever coming to face-to-face, and drone strikes are ordered on innocent civilians by generals oceans away, people increasingly communicate at the ‘distance’ of the title, with far-reaching and dehumanising consequences. Horne interrogates this phenomenon on both a personal and global scale, achieving something even more impressive by intricately weaving the two together, creating a love story wrapped inside a geopolitical thriller.
“a performance of contrasts and subtlety”
Action at a Distance, which began life as Horne’s university Dissertation, shows a deep understanding of contemporary America and the relationship between private and public. The narrative centres around two young people who meet online: out-of-work plumber Chris and Josh, a charity worker exposing the truth behind U.S. drone strikes in Syria and Iraq. The fascination Chris shows towards Josh’s activities and her own familial struggles results in their burgeoning digital relationship developing and unravelling into something with more far-reaching consequences.
Horne’s text is beautifully composed and thoroughly researched, offering great insight into ‘the dark web’, an area described as ‘the internet’s basement’, about which I knew very little prior to the show. I confess it took me a while to become fully engaged with Chris and Josh’s relationship and the writing in some early exchanges felt a little melodramatic on occasions, with moments of unnecessary rhetoric and grandstanding. It was also clear that the show belonged to one performer: Rosa Caines, who delivered a truly breath-taking turn as Chris. Not only was her American accent impeccable, to the extent that I was surprised when she thanked the audience in her native British at the end, but perfectly personified her character’s wide-eyed wonder and sense of innocence caught in the murky depths of the dark web. It was a performance of contrasts and subtlety and Chris became enormously familiar figure the longer the play went on. While much credit must go to Horne for writing a character this beautiful, he wouldn’t have drawn our empathy without Caines. Absolutely someone to look out for in the future.
If you want a show to wash away those early morning Edinburgh cobwebs, which will be frightening, through-provoking and enlightening, then I’d recommend Action at a Distance. I’m certain this isn’t the last we’ve seen from Rory Horne or Rosa Caines.
ZOO Southside, 4th – 22nd August, 10:10