Friday 16 February 2024

A Suffocating Choking Feeling review

A Suffocating Choking Feeling is a hybrid live and digital performance presented by the innovative duo of Simone French (performer and creator) and Tom Halls (director and technical) aka TomYumSim, that looks at how we use social media and how quickly the lines can blur between being authentic and being performative. French plays Simone Hamilton, a wannabe social media influencer who in her desire to have all the likes, follows and shares, gives herself a terminal illness that spirals out of control.

We see Simone livestream her days across various locations including her studio, a hotel room, and of course, at the hospital, but French lets us into the behind the scenes moments as Simone prepares her ring light, camera stand and applies finishing touches to her outfits before going live, leading us to doubt the legitimacy of what is being put out and who Simon actually is. This is a show where the use of our phones is not a gimmick, but integral to its success and it is used to great effect as it presents the rabbit hole that influencer and influencee can fall into.

We are encouraged to log on to Instagram live and interact with our sickly viral sensation as she shares her talents and thoughts. It's an approach that speaks volumes on its impact. Despite having (only) 25 people watching, there are a number of people whose comments and responses Simone feeds off; she is looking for all the praise and endorsement she can get. 25 people might not be many, but had it been 250 people with a quarter of that number praising you, it would be difficult to not give into the temptation of wanting more and more.

French gives a committed performance, one that is carefully considered and thoughtful in approach. It's over the top and obnoxious when needed yet beneath the confidence and excitedness, she taps into instances where the cracks in the facade begin appearing.

Hall's sound design stirs some intense moments, including one where we hear the internal chatter in Simone's head as she scrolls through all the public comments being hurled at her. Hall's direction in bringing together visual effects, video and live performance is filled with surprise and anticipation, as we're never quite sure where we will be taken next.

While Belle Gibson, who faked having cancer, inspired this production, this is not about Belle Gibson, although she does feature during the show. A Suffocating Choking Feeling is about all the Belle Gibsons who project images that are not real and manipulate their fans and audience to suit their needs. It also leads back to the audience interaction where people post and comment with their best zingers and sassy comments for their own recognition and clout. What TomYumSim do so well is leave us questioning how complicit we are in creating the Belle Gibsons (and Simone Hamiltons) of the world and how we engage with social media.


La Mama HQ, 205 Faraday St, Carlton
until 18 Feb | 7:30pm, Sun 4pm 
60 minutes
$35 Full | $25 Concession
Bookings: La Mama Theatre

Image Credit: Darren Gill

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