Winner of the coveted Fringe First award (2015) Daniel Bye’s Going Viral explores the human responses to the weird and predictable behaviours of viral epidemics. Part fiction, part informal biology lecture, Bye is in turns the Brian Cox of educational theatre and the engaging, gently humorous raconteur you’d be at home having a pint with. Through dressed down storytelling and simple visual devices, he mirrors hysteria in our state of global connectivity with the spread of disease. Within its gaze, the show also comments on the privilege of wealth in times of crisis, and how protecting ourselves can often end up meaning isolation from human contact in all its forms.
It’s a sensory production; we’re given the opportunity to disinfect our hands with gel and smell the aroma from the onion Bye chops in effort to make himself cry. Pink liquorice all sorts, standing in for his demonstration on the singular cells of a virus, remain an eerie visual symbol of mutation throughout. The simplicity of the haunting singular note sound design, punctuating scenes and underscoring moments within the hysteria, demonstrates how little a performance needs to be effective.
The strength is in Bye’s manner, his ability to assure his audience during his interactions with us and his carefulness with the details of the narrative. Whilst he changes character the natural humour of his stage persona doesn’t abandon us, even in the dark moments. Sadly, the energy of the story drops towards the middle of the 70 minutes and it feels as though the form he’s adopted gets a little tired of itself. The pace quickly recovers, however, and I’m chilled by the final image of our man, the host of the virus, desperately rubbing disinfectant gel into his arms as the lights fade out.
This show doesn’t take itself too seriously, whilst posing pertinent questions, and I can say I’ve learnt some fascinating facts about viruses. I can’t say I haven’t seen anything like Going Viral before but strangely enough, in light of the subject matter, Bye’s gift for telling this story manages to create a welcome refuge in the festival and supplies plenty of food for thought.