Review: n00b (Young People’s Theatre)

Perfect for Family Day, n00b is a story of teen addiction to video games, at Toronto’s Young People’s Theatre

In today’s digital world, the analogue universe of theatre seems anachronistic. All too often playwrights seem to avoid technology as a theme, choosing to let the multi-million dollar world of film and television explore such concepts. Those that do choose to embrace technology on the stage often come across as latecomers, cashing in on trends that have long since passed, making their stories quaint at best or obsolete at worst. Going into Vertigo Theatre‘s production of n00b at Young People’s Theatre I found myself considering these obstacles, alongside the concern anyone pushing 30 might have of going into a production advertised “For ages 9 and up”.

It is truly a delight to say that my worries were almost completely unfounded. Calgary-based Vertigo Theatre has clearly recognized that Christopher Duthie’s script is about far more than simply “pwning n00bs”. The story of a teenager running away from home after his parents dismantle his gaming console when it takes over his life is rife with explorations of themes like the importance of belonging, the need for recognition from one’s peers and the constant struggle for balance and identity in a world that is still trying to find its own in the second decade of the 21st Century.

This is a play aimed at younger audiences, and n00b finds itself in the unenviable position of having to strike a balance between providing educational material while at the same time remaining entertaining. While there are moments where it seems to go a bit too far in its choices (throughout the 50 minute play there are sequences of a character, possibly Daniel in his imagination, taking part in an assassination mission, using military phonetic alphabet and radio protocols, something I think most adults are going to have trouble deciphering) the vast majority of the narrative succeeds in walking that tightrope.

Speaking of balance, it’s important that it be made clear that n00b truly is the sum of all its parts. The wonderfully unique set by Deitra Kalyn is a geometrical spectacle reminiscent of 8-bit platformers and gives Duthie a whole world to climb around and explore, while the projections by Kaely Dekker place us right in the action of a tense firefight in the game or a quiet car ride through the streets. Jeremy Parker’s sound and lighting complete the picture, providing distinct musical cues for each character transition giving the audience an easily accessible leitmotif for easy identification and effortless immersion into the story.

In the end, my only real issues with n00b come from a subjective viewpoint; there are a couple themes explored in the play that I, in my high-minded introspective way, would have liked to see explored in greater depth. Later in the play, Daniel and SUNTZU (Daniel’s Clan leader and rival parental figure to Daniel’s father) discover a glitch in the game and in a very fun scene the audience is shown the excitement in seeing the skeleton underneath the shiny surface of video games and the possibilities they can open up for the curious gamer. At the same time, it felt like a glitch itself, a holdover from a previous version of the play that didn’t quite fit into the rest of the script, and I could see some of the children in the audience getting restless–until a Mario Brothers question block popped up, eliciting a wave of excitement as they recognized the familiar image.

Glitches aside, however, n00b is a fantastic play that, while I was leery of its stated age range at first, is clearly both entertaining and accessible for both children and adults, as evidenced by the clear enjoyment of the masses of children I found myself seated with. Whether you’re a teacher looking to have a discussion with your students about modern technology or just a theatregoer looking to spend a lunch hour watching some truly contemporary theatre, I highly recommend taking a chance on n00b.

Details:

  • n00b is playing at Young People’s Theatre (165 Front Street E)
  • Performances run until Feb. 20th
  • Showtimes are 10:15 AM and 1 PM (Feb 11, 12, 13, 19, 20), 2 PM (Feb 15, 16, 17[Family Day]) and 1PM (Feb. 18)
  • Ticket prices are $15-$24
  • Tickets can be purchased by phone at (416) 862-2222 or online at youngpeoplestheatre.ca
  • Parents are advised that on Family Day (Feb. 17) there will be a special event held by YPT, including backstage tours, a scavenger hunt and workshops, all included with a purchase of a ticket to that days performance.

Photo of Christopher Duthie by Cylla von Tiedemann.