Within the world of video games, there’s a challenge called a “speedrun”; and within the world of speedrunning, there’s something called a “glitch”. It’s a secret way to finish a level faster than you’re meant to, using an idiosyncrasy in the game’s code to jump straight to the end. Glitch is a monologue from a young gamer called Kelly, who’s excited to discover that a speedrunning contest is coming to her town. But Kelly has a glitch of her own - a part of her brain that doesn’t quite work in the way the world expects it to.
Kelly is autistic... or as she herself chooses to put it, “diagnosably weird”. That’s just one example of her gentle, ironic, observational humour, which lightens the wordy monologue and helps us cheer for a character who isn’t always easy to understand. Her unfiltered commentary on the people surrounding her is a constant delight, while her occasional social clangers are piquant, even as they’re played for supportive laughs. Most of all, I enjoyed her logical deductions about how social interaction works - a reminder that life’s a mess of rules and conventions, a hundred times more complex than any video game.
And Kelly slowly works out, too, what’s happening to her dad: the anchor of her life, the man who showed her an all-important glitch in the middle of her favourite game. Dad isn’t well, but it’s not the first time that’s happened, and Kelly’s sure he’ll soon be out of hospital and home. Needless to say, things don’t turn out so simple, and Kelly’s creeping awareness that something might be wrong delivers subtle but deeply-felt poignancy.
Playwright Krystina Nellis performs her own script; it felt a little uneven on the day I attended, but it was easy to engage with and enjoy. The evocation of Margot, Kelly’s self-obsessed neighbour, was a particular highlight - it’s tempting to write her off, but perhaps she’s more insightful than she seems. And there’s a twist to the story, an unexpected epiphany in a nightclub, which takes the tale in a surprising direction yet feels entirely natural in Nellis’ hands.
The whole performance is captioned for accessibility, but rather than giving us a standard black-and-white LCD display, they’ve done it in the visual style of a 90’s-era computer game. It’s a cute concept, and I smiled in recognition at some faithfully-recreated quirks, like the blocky cartoonish backdrops and the way a character says ‘…’ to indicate surprise. But the lovingly-drawn 8-bit visuals do distract attention from the live action; I found myself looking at the screen far more than I do when I’m using conventional subtitles. It would be a shame to drop such a clever and thematic gimmick, but perhaps the graphics should be saved for special occasions rather than running right through the show.
Overall, Glitch isn’t glitchy, but it is a little rough around the edges. It’ll benefit from a few more performances to develop its voice and rhythm. But the concept, script and storyline are beautifully formed, and the bittersweet humour complements a deeply reflective theme. Kelly’s dad always told her she cared too much what people thought - which doesn’t match her own self-image, nor the way she shares her story. But Kelly’s dad was a wise man… and at the end, when we finally understand what he meant by that comment, I felt a little wiser too.