Review by Carly Fisher
It’s exciting to see new Australian female driven works being programmed into the mainstage seasons of theatre companies around Sydney and Keziah Warner’s new mixed-genre trilogy, Control, is a worthy addition to the New Theatre’s 2022 season.
Control is an ambitious work that tells three individual stories with side-characters making recurring appearances as the work spans several generations. Essentially, we are presented with a world where climate change has peaked and with it, a dystopian world has come to the brink where childhood memories are stored, subject to hackers, and privatised and where A.I. and humans live in coexistence.
The first storyline is perhaps the most fleshed out with a quartet of reality stars participating in an experiment wherein they are hurled into space for what appears to be an intergalactic version of Big Brother. This initial piece of the trilogy would almost perhaps work better as a stand alone play. Whilst the second and third storylines each have interesting moments, the lack of cohesion between the stories and the overall length of the play lost me as an audience member.
The performances from the cast were solid with Kaitlyn Thor being the obvious standout. Emily Suine is a close second in command. Thor’s characters seem the most developed and complex with moral dilemmas at the helm and an interesting final character in the form of Isabel in the third part of the story. Suine’s characters were inherently more vacuous but vivacious as she is on stage, Emily quickly won the crowd over anyway. These two actors were best showcased and whilst the rest of the ensemble was strong as a group, knowing the talent of many of those on stage, I felt that some actors were simply underutilized. And overall, I felt that there was a very evident lack of chemistry between cast members which, with such a strong Ensemble, was disappointing.
The story is divisive in that it will not hold appeal for all audiences and I think that your own views of technology and its potential influence on our future will heavily dictate your response to this piece. For me, I didn’t find the characters all that relatable, perhaps with the exception of Isabel and Esta in the final sequence. Portrayed by Thor and Caitlin Williams respectively, this relationship was the most developed in the show and the themes of ambition, frustration, connection and fear were well executed in this piece of the story.
Where things went really ‘right’ for me was in the design of this production - the set by David Marshall-Martin was striking from first glance and offered interesting pockets for the actors to play in. The lighting design by Capri Harris was clever, intricate and offered a great use of bold colours and special states to drive the narrative and yet maintain the mystique. Finally, the sound design by Patrick Howard (also the Director) was outstanding and the layers of nuance throughout were certainly highlights of the production.
Unfortunately, where things really fell apart for me lay predominantly in the pacing - the show was slow and was laboured further by an unnecessary amount of black outs or near black outs that just completely isolated the audience…just when we were getting into things. Whilst I understood their purpose between each of the individual stories of the trilogy, I felt that the transitions between ‘Acts’ were clunky and served as missed opportunities where we as an audience could have been guided from storyline to storyline. Within each of the stories, the excessive use of black outs in Act 1 and strobe-like effect in Act 2, kept distancing me from the story and ultimately, the repetition of these techniques meant that the shock value was lost. The scenes themselves too often dragged a little too long - be that because Howard had not considered the pacing enough with his cast, or simply because sometimes the script just went into these didactic lists…or a mix of both. The same script but done 15-20 mins faster could have kept us an audience on our toes.
Overall, the show has lots to be proud of - the design elements are incredibly strong, the cast is talented and Keziah Werner has presented a new work that certainly gives us lots to think about. I hope that the show continues to mature as the season rolls on and in that, finds its feet more.
Image Credit: Bob Seary