THE DIGITAL HOME via The Albany
Theatre matters. The world may be reeling under an apparently unceasing rain of disasters and setbacks – global warming, the Covid pandemic, political and religious extremism, racial tensions, gender issues, social injustice and economic exploitation – but theatre still has a way of zeroing in on core issues like no other form of communication.
The secret lies, I think, in its ability to create an intimate experience within a community setting which gives it a unique capacity for revealing truths. And I can’t think of anything I have seen live or in cyberspace or via an app in recent times that proves this better than Christopher Green’s extraordinary offering The Digital Home which takes as its theme the care of the elderly in different cultures – a theme that has, does and will continue to affect every human on the planet.
The Digital Home - produced by Green with the Albany, Entelechy Arts and their Japanese partners Saitama Arts - follows on from a remarkable 2019 experiment by Green who invited an audience to spend two days physically living in a fictional residential home to experience every aspect of how care works in Britain. It was due to be repeated in Japan in 2020 but the pandemic scuppered the plan.
Now it’s been recreated as an online experience in English and Japanese – and the way it cleverly navigates a course that avoids mawkish praise of the system on the one hand and lazy condemnation on the other is nothing short of magnificent.
Certainly there’s more than a hint of satire – Green’s portrayal of the home’s oleaginously grasping boss is fabulous – and there are even suggestions of darker deeds. But I know from my own experience of such places that its representation of patients being patronised by well-meaning but stressed-out staff and the grim drudgery of underpaid, overworked domestics is uncomfortably close to reality for many residents, especially in a time of pandemic.
Green is not content, though, simply to have a pop at the system. He offers an alternative view of how it can work in the Japanese version of The Digital Home, which is available on the same download, and in 10-minute talks by real-life world experts in the care of the elderly about how the system can and must be improved.
The end result is a piece of work that forces you to question how we treat the more vulnerable members of our society, something that becomes more important with every passing year given how long many of us now live. It’s a matter as vital as many of the other huge issues facing the planet today. And it is to Green’s eternal credit that he has raised it in such a fascinating, accessible and entertaining way. I can’t recommend The Digital Home too highly.
The work is available at https://www.thealbany.org.uk/shows/the-digital-home/