Control (New Theatre) – theatre review

Who knows what the future holds? One thing seems certain, namely artificial intelligence (AI) will play a controlling role in our lives. This issue is the fundamental theme in Control, a play by Keziah Warner, presented by New Theatre at Newtown. If not for Warner’s humorous style, the subject matter would be quite dark and serious.

The story unfolds over a half century. The starting point is the not-so-distant future. A reality TV show has gone galactic and is streamed from a rocket ship headed for Mars. The goal of the four “contestant/astronauts” is to land on the red planet, carry out the show’s challenges for a year and then return to Earth.

Photos by Bob Seary

As they go about their daily activities on board, the automations begin to malfunction intermittently, creating uncertainty and distress amongst the contestants. A large red camera/light hears and sees their every move; it even sets a moral code, beeping loudly with every swear word uttered. The big red camera seems like an upgraded model of HAL, the mission computer in 2001: A Space Odyssey. And, just like HAL, its independent analytics start to take greater control over its supposedly human superiors.

About 20 years later, the action has moved. An AI concierge proudly boasts: “Welcome to the Museum of Childhood. We keep your memories, so you don’t have to”. It is seemingly a wonderful place to visit, where no records can be amended or deleted (so we are led to believe).

The final location shown is on what is termed “New Earth”, or Mars as we used to call it. Human-looking, robotic AI machines can carry out all those menial tasks we no longer want to. This includes teaching our children. They can even empathise and be our friend … simply by adjusting their emotional balance settings to the required level. It begs the question, who is controlling who?

Control is a clever and insightful thought-provoker. Warner has grafted scientific speculation with the social behaviour and the picture she paints is not pretty. In fact, the more we seem to progress with AI, the more anxious and distrustful humanity becomes.

With Patrick Howard directing, the cast and creatives have produced a powerful show. There is a bias of youth in the characters, a bad omen for us over-40s who, in Keziah Warner’s future world, will presumably be relegated to old-Earth duties. There are animated performances from Emily Suine, Luke Visentin, Kaitlyn Thor, Riley McNamara, Olivia Xegas and Caitlin Williams.  Excellent lighting, sound and stage effects elevate the spectacle, while the set design is suitably futuristic.

For a somewhat different theatrical experience, Control is one to see. Warner puts it well when she says “it’s a sci-fi for people who don’t normally watch sci-fi”. Alternately put, it is a Claytons’ sci-fi. Control is on at New Theatre, 542 King Street, Newtown until 30th July, 2022.

Paul Kiely
For more of Paul Kiely’s writings on theatre, check out Absolute Theatre

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