BFF – 14 November 2019, Montgomery Theatre, Sheffield

Review by Daniel O’ Key.

“Mary-Frances Doherty’s BFF is a fresh and bitingly relatable piece, tackling the themes of teenage friendship and the perils of social media, it is perfectly suited to her intended younger audience and beyond (this 25-year-old YouTube-addicted male can confirm).

Doherty portrays the plays only character, Chloe, who is about to start secondary school. Like all pre-adolescents, Chloe is brimming with energy and innocence. Her days consist of giddily planning her morning school routine and militarily strategizing where to sit in class (being too close to the front would make her a know-it-all, naturally). Chloe befriends new classmate Sophie and after an initial honeymoon phase, her life goes downhill in toe-curling fashion thanks to the trappings of social media. From here we follow Chloe on a journey of embracing positivity and striving for genuine human connection, beyond the dopamine-dealing gadgets we cling to every day.

The success of the show is majorly down to Doherty’s performance. She monologues Chloe’s hopes and fears with an exuberance that’d make a CBBC presenter crave a red bull, it’s pitch-perfect for kids and endearing for the most cynical of oldies. As Chloe updates a vlog through the show, Doherty reels off classics “welcome back to my channel!” and “like and subscribe!” with the exact Disney cadence and frantic hand gestures of YouTubers today. Doherty’s performance is most impressive at the play’s dramatic moment: within seconds we see Chloe go from glee at making a post, to shock at negative responses, to pure terror as it is “shared” beyond her control, out for the world to see forevermore. Doherty’s work makes the piece an effective cautionary tale for her audience, which resonates and never feels on-the-nose.

Aside from keen acting and a timely message, BFF engages with its innovative staging. Doherty alternates between three distinct styles to tell her story: a confessional in which Chloe monologues to the audience directly, her vlog, complete with projection onto a backdrop and a game of “Would You Rather”, in which Doherty drops character and asks the audience to raise a coloured card if they prefer one statement over another. The latter is certainly eye-opening. Doherty smartly leads in with humorous options: “would you rather have a friend who talks to you when on the phone or n the toilet?” before going deeper: “would you rather have a friend who compliments you in real life, or in social media comments”? Terrifyingly, a couple of younger audience members opted for the latter, a stark reminder of BFF’s necessity for younger audiences.

The closing scenes featuring Chloe’s journey to ignore online negativity, her unashamed friendship with an unpopular classmate and ending her quest for online validation made BFF the perfect production to see during 2019’s anti-bullying week. As this year’s theme says: “Change Starts With Us” and BFF reminds its audience of that soundly. “

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