REVIEW: COTTON (Waterloo East Theatre) ★★

The world of e-sports and professional gaming is growing. Although still a relatively niche area of the entertainment industry, it is slowly but surely gaining traction and making its way into the spotlight. Cotton, by new playwright Alex Benjamin, tells the story of those who enjoy fame and glory in the digital world struggling to find their place in the physical world.

Brothers Glen and Kieran are professional players of League of Legends. Along with fellow team mate Tammy, they spend hours each day glued to their computer monitors, training to battle others in an online arena and take their place among the world’s gaming elite. When Kieran’s relationship with Adderall – which he relies on to improve his mental focus during games – takes a turn for the worse, the team’s future is thrown into jeopardy. After losing a particularly important game, the threesome disengages from the competitive gaming scene and each of them starts making plans for a new life offline. However, used to spending their time in a digital world where magical abilities and fearsome creatures are the norm, they struggle to adapt to life in the real world.

Cotton, the first play from new playwright Alex Benjamin is an ambitious piece. Throughout the play, there are plenty of detailed references and in-jokes for avid gamers and followers of e-sports in the audience. However, these are largely wasted on an audience who has no existing interest in gaming. The plot seems to meander quite slowly and while the story is interesting at first, it lacks direction with no key points or developments to push the story forward. Strangely, we only ever get to meet three of the five team mates which makes the story feel a little underdeveloped. Including the other members of the team (and removing the somewhat redundant character of the boys’ father) would afford us a more rounded and varied view of the team’s lives post-defeat. As it is, the continual shared frenetic and despondent energy of the three gamers is maintained throughout and becomes quite exhausting and some strange expressions distracting us from the dialogue.

The addictive appeal of video games is well presented in Cotton. Each of Benjamin’s characters understands that their prolonged immersion in the digital world is ultimately self-destructive, yet their need to feel successful and valued among their peers is hugely relatable among the gaming community.

Stories of the pro-gaming scene are slowly but surely making their way to mainstream entertainment. At this year’s Vault Festival, Benjamin’s Cotton is clearly a labour of love, drawn from his own experiences and interest in online gaming. While the premise of the show is intriguing and undoubtedly relevant to today’s growing online community, the piece is underwhelming and lacks a clear message.

Reviewed by Alex Foott


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