In our increasingly connected world, the rantings of people espousing conspiracy theories reach wider influence than ever before. Thoughts that counter all scientific proof, such as a faked moon landing or the existence of an elite reptilian humanoid ruling the world, used to be the subject of late night radio phone-in-shows and eccentric daytime television. However, the modern tinfoil-hat-clad conspiracy theorist has access to message boards. Using the power of a keyboard, they can easily pair with others looking to connect and hopefully answer shared questions of ‘what if…?’ Portents uses some verbatim reading of these message boards, together with transcripts from historical radio and television interactions to help examine these connections.
Portents does well to create the narrative, by beginning with the idea that these mass communications flood our atmosphere. The information flies out to the unknown, stretching deeper into the far reaches of space, thus providing hope, for some, that one day these messages will be heard in deep space by those looking to make contact.
Throughout the performance, the readings also pepper in different conspiracy theories, such as the urban legend of Paul McCartney’s death and subsequent replacement, that add a good bit of humour to the story. However, the play mainly focuses on the conspiracists’ need to find answers and connect to like-minded people. It also shows the effect of obsession with conspiracy theories for friends, family members, and co-workers. As people become more delusional and more withdrawn, their need to connect and find answers completely takes over their lives, leaving others behind.
The subject matter itself is convoluted, which hampers the story’s development. The readings bounce between various different unconnected scenes, which further complicates the overall story. Perhaps this new story intends to be surreal, but it leaves the play feeling a bit incomplete, particularly in the very manufactured ending. However muddled the story may be, the readings performed show strong acting ability by the narrators and certain anecdotes make the show enjoyable. The performance shows great potential and, with some post-Fringe tinkering, this disjointed new writing could become a power piece on loneliness and connection through counter culture.