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‘Interesting exploration of the seedy side of internet fame’: CONTROVERSY – Living Record Festival (Online review)

A six-part web series about social influencers, Controversy is filmed entirely on Zoom. It is written by Maya Katherine, who stars as Hayley, a student who aims to hit the big time and become famous.

It’s a flashy piece, made up of video calls and to-camera pieces, and explores the fake world behind the sunny smiles we see on YouTube channels. How young people can be seduced into thinking this is an easy way to make money, selling themselves, their lives and personalities out in the process.

At the moment a theme in many digital productions appears to be that social media has a bad undercurrent, where selling an image and a line of dubious “merch” is better than being real and genuine. Controversy is a cautionary tale about one person who pushes herself into making all the wrong decisions.

Even when she receives hate messages and violence she still clings on to the fact that her follower counts mean people “love her”, and her amoral agent, Alex, is the epitome of evil as the callous moneygrabber who loses sight of the real person she is supposed to represent.

I liked how this show was presented in six episodes (four run around eight minutes, the other two around ten). You can watch in bite-sized chunks if you wish or in one go: if you watch them all together you don’t need the “previously” preamble, but it is a nice touch that it is there.

Hayley is a young gay woman with a girlfriend, Mia. Mia is both used to boost Hayley’s reach and following, and also proves pivotal to her initial viral success.

Both roles are convincingly acted: Katherine is excellent throughout as Hayley wrestles with her conscience and her need for affirmation; Tara Ahmed’s Mia has less to do, but does it very well, with a cute word game video and a tart put-down.

Other cast members have less chance to shine, but Elliot Ferris as Harry, Sarah Moat as Max, and Emily Evans as the odious Alex are memorable and believable.

Esther Finlay directs the whole piece, with Francesco Redica providing the soundtrack of well-chosen pieces and music. The script was developed especially for digital presentation during lockdown.

I found Controversy an interesting exploration of the seedy side of internet fame, but felt that it could have said more given a longer running time or a less episodic slant. Alex’s advice to Hayley is in itself worth exploring at length: trends, types and tensions that will “sell”.

As it stands, it is a piece of work well worth watching, very perceptive to current concerns, and astute enough to keep audiences talking.

Controversy is one of 45 shows running in the Living Record Festival. For more information and to book, go here.

Other reviews from Living Record: Broken Link.

LouReviews received complimentary access to review Controversy.

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