A pregnant ex-ballerina, a bitter puppeteer, a child detective, and a feminist pop star are all hurtling towards Mars… But there’s no punchline. Instead, there’s Control.
Red Stitch presents the world premiere of Keziah Warner’s new and provocative work, which explores our human need to control others’ perceptions of us. Told in three acts, three separate times, and locations from Melbourne to Mars, Control considers our relationship with modern technology, ranging from our dependence to its potential. The play will be directed by Julian Meyrick (Angela’s Kitchen, Who’s Afraid of the Working Class? The Realistic Joneses, Lamb) and features Red Stitch ensemble members Christina O’Neill, Dushan Philips, and Samuel Rowe, and guest actor Naomi Rukavina.
Originally from the UK, Keziah is a playwright and dramaturg. She graduated from London’s Goldsmiths College, Richmond Theatre’s Advanced Playwriting Course and Soho Theatre’s Writers’ Lab. Her plays have been produced in various fringe venues across London, as well as in the Edinburgh and Auckland Fringe festivals. Her new play Control has been developed through Red Stitch’s INK playwriting program, which provides resources to nurture new works to their fullest potential. Other INK developments have included Jurassica by Dan Giovanonni, The Honey Bees by Caleb Lewis, and Lamb by Jane Bodie.
I had a chat with Keziah about her writing process ahead of the show’s premiere next week.
Tell me a bit about yourself as a writer!
I’ve been writing plays for about ten years or so but just in the last few years switched from naturalism to start experimenting in genre. I’m still exploring fairly fundamental questions about humanity, like how we represent ourselves as individuals and how we communicate with each other, but increasingly everything I work on is science or speculative fiction. There’s such a big question mark over the future of our planet that I think it’s difficult to make art now without it having a political element. So imagining a play set in the future means doing that bigger thinking around who we’ll be, where we’ll be and who and what has survived. My other reaction to the state of the world is that almost everything I write is (at least partly) comedy. You have to laugh…
How have you found developing a play through the INK program?
The support of Red Stitch through the INK program has been just incredible. I’ve been really fortunate to have dramaturgical support from Tom Healey and Ella Caldwell and to be able to workshop various drafts of the play with the ensemble of actors. It’s so invaluable to be able to hear your work out loud and what I think is quite unique about INK is that you are really allowed to develop your play in your own time. There isn’t a deadline when the program ends or a limited number of months in which you have to complete redrafting. The company is incredibly invested in the success of the development and being able to support the play through to production and that’s rare in Australia. Red Stitch are playing a crucial role in developing plays and playwrights and with the loss of Playwriting Australia, that’s something we really need to hold on to.
What has been the biggest challenge during this process?
This was my first foray into science fiction so I definitely started out far too high concept and forgot to put any real human emotions in there. Developing a new idea of how the world might work in the future takes a lot of time and brain space, so I think the biggest challenge for me was admitting that those initial concepts weren’t working dramatically. I had to throw a lot of stuff out and start all over again. It made the play a lot better though.
Your play crosses borders, decades, and even galaxies – how did you research and develop the concept?
At the beginning I read quite a lot about Mars and about artificial intelligence. I leave research behind pretty early though, unless I need to check a specific fact. Too much information can quickly get in the way of the story so once I knew where the technology was at and what was still being developed, I could begin extrapolating what might happen. Then I could indulge the privilege of fiction writing and just start making it up. I wanted the settings in the play to be recognisable – like a reality show format or a customer service environment – but playing with futuristic sci fi ingredients like a Martian setting or sentient robots. That accessibility is a really important part of this play in that the audience don’t need to know anything about space or tech to enjoy it – it’s a sci fi for people who don’t normally watch sci fi.
What can audiences expect from Control?
It’s quite an adventure! The play spans fifty years, starting on a rocketship and ending on New Earth with a stop back in Melbourne along the way. It has celebrities trying to up their reality TV ratings, a museum where you can view your own childhood and a human settlement on Mars. It’s about our relationship with technology and the disparity between the persona we present to the world and who we really are. Ultimately it’s about what it means to be human. There’s lots of comedy, twists and turns and a few sad bits too. Plus some explosions. And dancing. And a puppet show.
Control | 10 October – 3 November
For tickets and more information, please visit the Red Stitch website.