Review: Control (Observatory Theatre)

The cast of Control, photographed by Geoff Lawrence: Creative Futures Photography.

Content note: Control includes coarse language, mature themes, and simulated violence, as well as flashing lights and loud noises.

Keziah Warner’s dystopian science fiction triptych has made its Queensland premiere at the Queensland Multicultural Centre, presented by Observatory Theatre. Originally commissioned by Red Stitch Actors’ Theatre through the INK program, and produced by Red Stitch in Melbourne in 2019, Control tells three stories, woven subtly together, that contemplate the possible future of the human race.

Observatory Theatre’s production of Control was directed and designed by Timothy Wynn. Structurally, Control made use of short, sharp scenes and the play was split into three distinct parts across space and time; a reality tv show in space, 2030; the Museum of Childhood, 2050, during the Earth’s ‘riot era’; and a teacher programming facility on New Earth, 2082. Each of these three narratives used a different story structure, and worldbuilding was achieved effectively through both the script and the staging with small details, such as pill-based meals. Given the use of rapid-fire short scenes, and how quickly and effectively the script established place and characters, the second and third narratives both felt slightly drawn out at times.

The cast of Control, photographed by Geoff Lawrence: Creative Futures Photography.

Opening with an intense and action-packed scene, the first section of Control took place aboard a spaceship that was also the set of a reality tv show. Tensions grew as the four occupants of the ship, all minor celebrities from Earth who had spent seven months together en route to Mars, performed their vulnerability and frustration for the cameras, completed secret challenges to win prize money, and spoke confessionally to the camera in the style of Big Brother. Video projections were used effectively to further the storytelling, particularly in this narrative.

Triona Calimbayan-Giles, Nykita O’Keeffe and Egan Sun-Bin, photographed by Geoff Lawrence: Creative Futures Photography.

The second narrative took place in the Museum of Childhood, the publicly funded option for storing and viewing your memories. Artificial intelligence was becoming more advanced, and more common in the workforce; your memories could be used against you, and your children; and some people were willing to do or pay anything to edit or delete parts of their past. Repetition and overlapping voices in this second part of the play emphasised the mundane office environment and level of technological advancement, as the workers speculated about life on Mars, available only to the ultrarich, and resented their new boss, a cheerful android called Alex.

Triona Calimbayan-Giles and Nykita O’Keeffe as Esta and Isabelle, photographed by Geoff Lawrence: Creative Futures Photography.

The third narrative focused on only two characters, and the evolving relationship between them; human programmer Isabelle and the advanced android she was programming to become a primary school teacher, Esta. As Isabelle tweaked and adjusted every aspect of Esta’s personality, backstory, and emotional range for optimal functionality, she was unnerved by Esta’s curiosity, and how close to human she had become.

The cast of Control – ​Triona Calimbayan-Giles, Nykita O’Keeffe, Egan Sun-Bin, and Matt Domingo – all delivered impressive performances, demonstrating versatility across a wide range of emotions and characters. Their affected accents aboard the spaceship were not always consistent, but there was excellent chemistry between all cast members.

Triona Calimbayan-Giles and Matt Domingo, photographed by Geoff Lawrence: Creative Futures Photography.

Set and scene transitions were managed smoothly by the cast although it was not immediately clear, in the transition between the first and second narratives, whether the actors were playing the same roles. Changes to the costuming and set, as well as the use of projections, distinguished each narrative. Sound design by Juleece Dawe and lighting/vision design by Nathaniel Knight played a key role in the storytelling as well as establishing the world and the mood.

The cast of Control, photographed by Geoff Lawrence: Creative Futures Photography.

Control looked to a future that felt concerningly close and disturbingly dark, exploring themes such as humanity’s colonisation of Mars and other planets, the digitisation and privatisation of memory, and the ethics surrounding the development and use of artificial intelligence. Although Control asked big questions about the future of humanity, there was also plenty of humour (and even a dance break) in this engaging and thought-provoking performance.

Control will play at the Queensland Multicultural Centre, Kangaroo Point, from 9 – 11 June 2022.

For ticketing and further information, visit the Observatory Theatre website

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