An exploration of reality versus virtual life, Richard Jordan’s Machina is the most thought provoking play to date this year and deserves a place in the time capsule for this era.
I remember life before Facebook. I remember dating pre-smart phone text messaging, when men rang you if they wanted to ask you out. Who would have thought that social media would change the way we interact so much? Whilst being a catalyst for connection, it can simultaneously disconnect us from others.
Machina is an exploration of the impact that social networking has on the lives of the family and friends of David Sergent. David commits social suicide by uploading his consciousness onto social networking site Machina, a process known as ‘going inside’.
The six-actor ensemble play various roles in this semi-digital world where some people feel more at ease with their virtual self than they do with their real life flesh and blood self.
It was lovely to see acting coach and casting director Peter Rasmussen return to the stage. Playing the role of Adam, a straight talking guy who’s just online for sex, his charm shines through, turning an unlikeable character into someone we can care about. Even when he befriends David’s mother online, you sense there is a deeper level to him; he is someone who is silently, and unconsciously, trapped in his own disconnect.
Luisa Prosser, who plays Amanda, is a great find, equally at home with serious roles or comic ones. She is able to effortlessly be extremely funny. Her well-bred English woman, who can swear and get up to mischief like the rest of us, is delightfully amusing.
Judy Hainsworth was well cast as the free-spirited Hannah. The sub-plot of her unlikely friendship with Amanda took an interesting turn when they swapped real-life personas for a job interview.
Jack Kelly, better known for his music theatre exploits with Harvest Rain, has crossed the divide to début as a serious actor. HIs character, Scott, initially comes across as a crazy stalker guy, whose gaydar app leads him to the local bus stop where he meets Tom (played by Liam Nunan). Scott later reveals a more vulnerable side and we understand that he is basically a nice guy who is just trying to make a connection. Tom, so cool on the surface and freaked out by being stalked, comes to understand that he’s the one with the attachment issues.
Director Caterina Hebbard did a superb job of making a purposefully fragmented script flow between scenes. It is interesting to note that David, the central character who now lives in the digital ether, is never seen onstage. The other actors are onstage the entire time, sometimes just loitering on the sidelines, but always attached via their digital device of choice.
Andrew Panda Haden (set and lighting design) transforms La Boite’s black box loft theatre into a clinical, white room, with white boxes as furniture. This reinforce the sense of disconnectedness, suggesting that all the characters are living out their lives in the cloud.
The writing is kept light, providing a lot of comedy along the way, despite the dark underlying themes.
Full of challenging ideas, with some laughs along the way, Machina is a truly satisfying night of theatre.