Virgin (review). Anne Cox joins other first timers at premiere.

The advancement of technology is terrifying. I had been using a vintage typewriter when I left work and returned four years later to find a machine called a computer staring at me. We have been at war ever since. I wouldn’t say I’m a Luddite but I when programs crash and work is lost, I yearn for those days of carbon paper and inky fingers.

Sunday, 29th September 2013, 2:06 pm
Laura Elphinstone and Michael Shelford in Virgin. Photo by Robert Day.
Laura Elphinstone and Michael Shelford in Virgin. Photo by Robert Day.

EV Crowe’s Virgin, which premiered at Watford Palace Theatre this week in the second of its three-part Ideal World series, pitches ambitious Emily (Laura Elphinstone) against the onslaught of high speed broadband and it doesn’t bode well.

I found it difficult to like Emily. Good luck to her for pursuing her dreams but the cost seemed unnaturally high. She had a baby, who we never see but frequently hear crying on the monitor, and Emily not only ignores the tot but rarely asks after it.

The wifely and motherly duties fall to house husband Mark in a swapping of gender roles that seems to strip Emily of all compassion. Even men, love ‘em, occasionally interact with their sprogs after a day’s work.

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Laura Elphinstone and Rosie Wyatt in Virgin. Photo by Robert Day.

The drama is full of stereotypes. The story is set somewhere “Up North” where the magical god, Broadband, has yet to spread its viral message to the rustics.

Emily, promoted from the mailroom and hoping for a fast-track to executive status, is after the job of bringing the brave new world to this outpost of humanity.

But she receives a slap in the face when outside consultants are brought in and a high-tech pro from the bright lights of London is given the task.

The sneering and very condescending Sally might only be less than ten years younger than Emily but she’s hot-wired and up to speed with the very latest in the worldwide web. Emily frequently withers in her presence and is made to feel a dinosaur in a rapidly changing electronic world.

In a fit of pique she commits the ultimate crime – she fires off a snotty email which goes viral. Oh dear.

At just 80 minutes Virgin probably has some very good points to make about technology and its connection with communities but, no matter how you package it, dialogue about fibre-optics and the installation of broadband, is as dull as dishwater.

There are attempts at making Laura Elphinstone’s Emily the face of a dying civilisation where, quaint as it may now seem, people still actually converse face-to-face and used paper messaging rather than sending emails and video-conferencing. I’m not sure that it works. She’s so blinkered and driven that she fails to garner sympathy.

Sally (Rosie Wyatt) meanwhile, represents the terrifying future where adults are socially inept, emotionally stunted and unable to connect with others unless it’s through an avatar in an alternative world. I’m not sure that’s my idea of paradise - which probably does make me a Luddite.

Emily’s hubby, Mark (Michael Shelford) advocates equality, and outwardly supports his wife’s decision to go out to work, leaving him to clear up the baby sick and rustle up a nice little cassoulet. I’m pretty sure he bites his tongue on several occasions. A fair partnership this is not.

He claims they’ve swapped roles because Emily’s job pays better, but in this day and age, his job as a skilled craftsman and builder, would almost certainly bring in a lot more cash than a glorified admin girl.

The performances are good, if lacking in any depth, but the story comes across as dated as MS-DOS. Even areas without broadband, and I’ve lived in a few, manage perfectly well online and, actually, manage perfectly well without computers and a digital world. They call it real life.

Virgin runs in rep until October 19. For tickets and times call the box office 01923 225671 or visit www.watfordpalacetheatre.co.uk