Machina (La Boite Indie and Madcat Creative Connections)
May 8 – 24
I love listening to what other audience members are saying as they leave a show and in the elevator on the way down from The Loft, there was consensus of comment about La Boite Indie’s “Machina”; “it’s just like the movie Transcendance.”
Richard Jordan’s “Machina” (pronounced MACK-IN-A,we are told within the opening minutes, from the Latin deus ex machina – the god via the machine) tells the story of David Jordan, who makes the ultimate commitment to social media by uploading his consciousness onto the fictional Machina network, leaving behind a bewildered family and friends, including his luddite, initially technophobic mother Isobel (Kaye Stevenson).
It is a concept that has been the focus of Nathan Sibthorpe’s enticing transmedia campaign (with slogans like ‘want to live forever?’), yet it does not dominate the show. It is often a struggle to warm to performances that dictate to audiences what to think by inserting a speech that instructs as to the message that should be taken from the work, so this is a good thing… until the final scenes. And from the point when actors circle the stage in a religious ritual chant to the spirit of Machina and then pontificate about the consequences of privileging the virtual over the physical, interest is reduced.
The landscape of the Machina world is anonymous, with set design of pristine white, in representation of the realm between the real and digital realms. Within the Machina experience, however, everyone knows everyone. This is seen in the snippets of interrelated social-media centred stories that make up the bulk of the show, including people’s reactions (both on and offline) to David’s suicide. Through these, the production explores what intimacy looks like in a digital world of Facebook, Gindr and Chat Roulette, thinly disguised as their Machina equivalents, in speculation of how we connect to other human beings in what is an increasingly brave new world.
Although there are aspects of sci-fit to its themes, it is the characters of “Machina” that are at the heart of his story. And the ensemble cast delivers, often in double roles, with characters who come to life over the course of the play.In particular, the relationship between Scott (Jack Kelly) and Tom (Liam Nunan), who first meet (in person) at a bus stop, showcases some rich, well-timed performances, fused with strong sense of character and situation. It is through their authentic and honest, yet also subtly comic performances, that audiences are reminded of the humanity at the heart of the play’s premise. For beyond its big ideas and contemporary concerns, this is still a story of people in quest for connection.
O brave new world, That has such people in’t! (The Tempest, Act V, Sc 1)
“Machina” is an earnest exploration of humanity in the modern sense, in particular, the adage that if you’re not online, you don’t exist. It is an intelligent, thought-provoking work of much potential. Although it isn’t necessary as gripping as it aims to be, there are some astute observations amongst its layers of insight about the tyranny of transparency and the possibility of technological singularity.