Writer: Stacey Gregg
Director: Sophie Motley
Reviewer: Liam Harrison
Is it possible to ‘be more natural than nature’? Is this a bullshit commercial soundbite or a genuine scientific aspiration to constantly better ourselves through technological discoveries? Before Stacey Gregg’s Override opens, a screen above the stage displays a montage of clips showing different kinds of bodily enhancements. From football-throwing bionic arms to properly jointed sex dolls – we are privy to a quick montage of how the impulses of medicinal advancement can descend into narcissism and hedonism, how self-maintenance turns to self-indulgence.
The actual play depicts the couple Mark (Shane O’Reilly) and Violet (George Hanover) in a not-too-distant-future, fleeing the society of tech-body improvements and settling down in their ‘rustic-chic’ cottage, preparing to start a family. Yet despite their attempted escape, technology cannot help but weave its way into their lives, embedding itself in their relationship and exposing their prejudices. We even watch the centre of the stage through a giant, interactive screen in a topical (if not exactly subtle) metaphor of how we consume most of our media.
Override explores modern obsessions with body image and technology. It looks at the uncanny intermingling of the two in the world of ‘bodily upgrades’ and ‘augmentations’ – resonating with the rise of a plastic surgery and steroids culture. The theme of malignant ‘social-advancements’ has a distinct echo of the dystopian visions of Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror.
The play is astute in exploring the classist undercurrents of bodily-improvements, looking at those more likely to indulge in them, and those more likely to profit from them. Violet is from a more ‘earthy’ social background where her family wouldn’t bat an eyelid at the odd nip or tuck (or artificial heart and leg), whereas the conceited Mark is morally disgusted by such a permissive attitude, while still admitting that it’s the same industry which funds his family’s fortune.
Override raises pertinent moral questions – on body images, artificial intelligence, technology and the self – without claiming to preach any answers. Yet at times the ambivalence can feel a little underdeveloped. Lines about how the disabled inevitably caused their own extinction jar against the light-hearted tone which dominates the majority of the play. There are more corny jokes than dark, profound statements, so the when the latter do emerge they can feel slightly out of place.
The technical achievements of the performance are a triumph. Peter Power crafts an amazing soundscape which gives the futuristic feel of the play a tangible sense of reality. It hits the perfect note in presenting a technology which appears familiar while also having a sense of innovative otherness. The sounds are matched by the visuals – the actors perform with a deftness of touch when interacting with the advanced technology, while also throwing themselves vigorously into the ‘retro-modern’ dancing, which futuristic plays love to throw in. Despite the energy of the performance we are ultimately drawn to the actors’ disintegrating bodies, their peeling fleshiness, and the fleeting nature of their (and our) postponed mortality.
Runs until 17 September as part of the Tiger Dublin Fringe Festival | Image: Kobas Laska &Felipe Jóia.