Writer and Director:Andrew Westerside
Reviewer: Glen Pearce
Venue: New Wolsey Studio, Ipswich
After watching Proto-type Theater’sA Machine They’re Secretly Building, it seems somewhat daunting to commit thought to paper/screen. These words captured, recorded and consumed and monitored by anonymous faces out on the web.
That may sound paranoid, but after an hour in the company of Rachel Baynton and Gillian Lees you may want to go off grid, head to the woods and never touch a keyboard ever again!
Based on Edward Snowden’s revelation of the US government’s “massive surveillance machine they’re secretly building”, writer (and director) Andrew Westerside’s history of State surveillance is both revelatory and deeply disturbing.
Two women (Baynton and Lees) sit, newsreader like, as they guide us through Inter-Governmental data gathering. The flat, calming, malifious tones assuring us all is well, and the continued erosion of privacy is fine because ‘it keeps us safe’. At least, as they tell us it isn’t raining…here.
There’s a chilling Orwellian matter of factness about the delivery, a complicit ‘we now what is best for you’ attitude, as they slowly reveal that privacy and information trading is now the new oil business. Big money is to be made from those simple clicks and swipes we make on keyboards and smartphones each day.
Of course, the collectors of all this personal data state that prevention of terrorism is the driver, and the events of 9/11 do indeed prove a turning point in the show, but rather than prove the need, this disarming piece, marrying humour with cold chilling face, highlights some discrepancies. Who knew, for example, that you are more likely to be killed by a deer than a terrorist act?
Baynton and Lees’ performances are compelling, their softly spoken words carefully pitched to have us learn forward in our seat to hear every word. They use charm and humour to disarm us but make no mistake, their message is forceful, their campaign as vivid as the lurid pink balaclavas they often don.
The piece loses momentum at the end when the pair don tinfoil hats to predict the future, painting yet another Orwellian landscape when thought is controlled, privacy a commodity and hope extinguished. It’s a chilling vision, and one that is, scarily, entirely plausible, but it sits uncomfortably in the cold, fact-laden majority of the show.
There are moments that genuinely chill; the sharing of pictures of the United States new Data Centre in a small Utah town, capable of storing every single communication, written and spoken, since the dawn of time, genuinely sends shivers down the spine.
We’re reassured that if we have nothing to hide then why should we be afraid, but the question is also raised on why the State and big business are so secretive over their data collection methods?
Proto-type Theater gives us reams of information. We need to decide what we want to do with it. Maybe just pop it down on pen and paper though.
Reviewed 30 May 2016| Image: Contributed