Venue: New Theatre (Newtown NSW), Jul 5 – 30, 2022
Playwright: Keziah Warner
Director: Patrick Howard
Cast: Romney Hamilton, Riley McNamara, Emily Suine, Luke Vinsentin, Caitlin Williams, Olivia Xegas
Images by Bob Seary
Three short plays set in the future; the first tells a story about a reality show in space, the second features a museum holding personal memories, and the third sees a robot receiving training from a human so that itself can become a teacher. Science fiction takes us to wildly imagined spaces, in order that we may observe ourselves in a different light. Keziah Warner’s Control looks to be about a time centuries ahead, but its contemplations are really about the here and now.
Warner’s dialogue is dynamic and amusing, but her narratives have a tendency to feel underwhelming. Segments about the reality show and the museum, feel insufficiently dramatic, even though the contexts are set up with ample intrigue. The concluding story about machine learning, is more successfully rendered, with director Patrick Howard paying very nuanced attention to the emotional fluctuations that occur throughout. It is perhaps revelatory, that we are ultimately most drawn to things that tug on our human heartstrings.
It is an ambitious set design by David Marshall-Martin that contains all the action, with a grandness that proves appealing, yet effective in portraying the foreboding nature of Warner’s futuristic visions. Lights by Capri Harris bear a sensitivity that helps convey the subtleties inherent in these nightmarish tales of our collective destiny. Rhiarn Zarzhavsky’s costumes offer textures and a colour palette that anticipate a world that is harder and colder, than what it has already become. Director Howard’s own sound design is exciting and thorough, for a staging that embraces the genre of sci-fi unabashedly.
Performers Romney Hamilton and Caitlin Williams are unequivocal stand outs, playing organic teacher and synthetic student respectively, on the planet New Earth. Hamilton’s ability to access emotional depths in very little time, and with minimal external influence, is an impressive sight. Williams as the android, is somehow able to depict layers, whilst maintaining a resolutely robotic exterior.
Science fiction often foregrounds our fear of extinction. This is distinct from the concern around our deaths as individuals, which seems divergently to be something we know to accept, or at least not to contradict. In Control, we look to be a species struggling to hang on to survival, refusing to acknowledge that the end is nigh. We imagine ourselves in dystopic situations, heroically clinging on, when in fact all we do in real life, points to a definitive catastrophe. Life could very well go on, but human participation in it, seems delusory.