Review: Going Viral – Unity Theatre

DANIEL BYE premiered Going Viral last summer at the Edinburgh fringe to general acclaim, and he’s now touring it nationwide, spreading his infectious blend of wit and wisdom as surely as an epidemic. The piece (written and performed by Bye) is set in the round, so Unity’s seating has been rearranged to create a double row of seats around the central stage. As we enter we are asked to fill up from the front row, to help with the dynamic of the work, and the fact that about two-thirds of the first audience members to enter choose to ignore this and sit to the rear (some even trying to create a third row) is interesting to observe. These people are already wary of being placed in a situation where they may be visible to each other or need to interact. The performer is already in the room and as the lights go down he invites us to share a bottle of hand sanitiser, while he begins to explain why we’re here. Bye has a unique and engaging way of storytelling, with parts of the text feeling very improvisatory and conversational, but it’s all mapped out and takes us on a fascinating journey through the world of epidemiology. We’re asked to imagine that we are all in the position of the key protagonist, a man on a plane from Kuala Lumpur, who finds himself the only person seemingly immune to a strange outbreak of weeping. The story progresses as the epidemic spreads through human contact, and the government makes efforts to arrest its progress by discouraging empathy. Daniel Bye, meanwhile, coyly slips in some sensory tear-defying tests on himself, appearing to prove that he is genuinely immune to weeping. Katherine Williams’ well considered lighting script follows Bye around Emma Tomkins’ sparse set, and depicts the progress of infection. Under the surface of this part-story part-lecture style of presentation lie more uneasy thoughts. Not only do we gain some fascinating insights into the anatomy of a virus and the mechanics of an epidemic, but we’re also challenged to consider how modern life makes us all wary of our fellow humans – a message especially, maybe, for those audience members who made a beeline for the back row. This is tremendously engaging, thought-provoking theatre, and has its audience held enthralled for the full 80 minutes. Interestingly though, the delivery puts everyone oddly at easy in their exposure, and the audience are soon willingly drawn into vocal participation. Daniel Bye continues to tour Going Viral to a further nine venues to late June, with tour dates available on his website, www.danielbye.co.uk and alongside it he also tours his show for a younger audience, Error 404. If you do book tickets to see the show don’t be scared of the front row, he doesn’t bite. And one more thing; you’ll never be able to look a liquorice allsort in the eye again… Review by Nigel Smith