Karen Fricker from The Star reviews Instant, by Erin Shields, directed by Dean Patrick Fleming: “This play for audiences aged 12 and up packs an impressive amount of timely material into a 45-minute running time.”

Read on The Star’s website: Erin Shields’ Instant hit deftly shows dangers of Snapchat age

This play for audiences aged 12 and up packs an impressive amount of timely material into a 45-minute running time. The theme is the risks and rewards of putting yourself out there on social media — something that, as the three actors pointed out in a post-show discussion, is more complex and acute for today’s teenagers than the rest of us can probably imagine.

Dean Patrick Fleming’s deft staging for Geordie Productions toured Quebec schools last year and is currently playing at Young People’s Theatre for school groups and, on the weekends, public audiences.

Meredith (Michelle Rambharose) is a budding singer/songwriter who dreams of stardom but holds back from putting her own stuff on YouTube, posting covers instead. For Jay (Dakota Jamal Wellman), getting recruited to a professional hockey team could bring his family out of socio-economic precarity, so Meredith helps him by posting videos of his best on-ice moves, in hopes he’ll be spotted by the pros.

When awkward Rosie (Leah Fong) goes viral with a crowdfunding campaign for her sick dad, Meredith is consumed with jealousy and lashes out online. The three schoolmates’ lives grow more intertwined and more fraught.

Thanks to Erin Shields’ skilful writing, the characters are believable and complex, particularly the two young women. Starting out by establishing how passionately Meredith loves music humanizes her and provides a context for, without excusing, her bad behaviour toward Rosie. Rambharose is an excellent singer which adds credibility to her character.

Fong brings earnestness and pathos to Rosie’s journey from the sidelines of school life through growing popularity to a booze-filled party scene where she’s out of her depth. How quickly and cruelly her embarrassment ends up broadcast to the universe via Instagram and Snapchat will give parents as well as teens a lot to think about.

The play moves back and forth between the characters talking directly to the audience, enacted scenes between them, and stylized sequences in which the mounting rhythm very effectively mirrors the intensity of life online. An episode at a hockey match plays out like an amped-up movie montage, cutting between the two girls posting on their phones, Jay’s action in and out of the game, and other members of their families (played by Rambharose and Fong) weighing in as well. There’s good humour here as well as high drama.

Fleming establishes and the actors maintain a strong pace throughout, though at times Wellman speaks so quickly it’s hard to understand him. At the performance viewed, musical numbers bleeding through from a production in the adjacent theatre were a further hindrance to comprehension, but the actors kept admirable focus against this challenge.

Cathia Pagotto’s set design looks appropriately simple for a touring show — stacks of wooden cubes plus a few more moved around by the actors to create different playing areas — but has an impressive media component. Images of people’s faces appear on the blocks to represent online activity, and the fact that they’re partial images (an eye, a mouth) adds thematic weight, suggesting how our online identities are always problematically partial.

There are some curse words spoken and challenging themes addressed, so families will want to be attentive to the 12+ age advisory; a visibly younger boy next to me seemed out of his element.

After all the intensity, Shields hands the audience a gift by having the characters narrate the next few years of their lives: What happens online in an instant can be devastating, and it’s gratifying to remember that there’s always a future beyond your most recent post.