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Theatre Crisis points

SUSAN DARLINGTON recommends two polemical plays on present and future political breakdowns

A Machine They’re Secretly Building
★★★★
 

The Audit (Or Iceland, A Modern Myth)
★★★
Carriageworks Theatre, Leeds

 

THE MACHINE already knows that you’ve clicked to read this review and that you used contactless to buy a tea on your morning commute.

 

 Fenia Kotsopoulou
Under surveillance: A Machine They’re Secretly Building Pic: Fenia Kotsopoulou

In 20 years time, unless it’s been halted, it will also have checked your blood pressure via an implant under your skin in the name of public safety and being a good citizen.

 

This is the world envisioned by Proto-type Theatre, a company of multidisciplinary artists, in the Edward-Snowden-quoting A Machine They’re Secretly Building.

 

An hour-long survey of government surveillance, it starts in wartime London with Rachel Baynton and Gillian Lees swapping fact after fact with hypnotic repetition. Sat behind two desks in black clothes and pink balaclavas — a cross between Pussy Riot and a terrorist — the air of menace is heightened by the visual overload from videos in the background.

 

The facts drum the audience into submission until the turning point of 9/11 when the tone shifts, with eye-opening revelations ceding to lightly ironic polemic.

 

Baynton eats secret codes and wraps Lees in cling film before turning a camera on the audience, all the while questioning the amount of control that’s been compliantly handed over to big business and highlighting the role of state manufactured fear of “the other” in this process.

 

Many of the same techniques are used in The Audit (Or Iceland, A Modern Myth) but with less success.

 

An overview of events leading up to the 2008 global financial crisis, Andrew Westerside’s script continues to mine the tension of repetition, but, in his second play to examine contemporary politics, no attempt is made to mask his agenda — within the first act the rhyme scheme has found a use for banker.

 

This more overt politicisation is humanised through the characters of Eva and her grandfather, universal members of the public who benefit from the years of easy credit before the crash decimates bank accounts, the job market and national pride.

 

The slow build towards the crisis, traced to the removal of safeguards put in place after the Great Depression, is narrated against the unrelenting boom of crashing waves as the duo don waterproof jackets.

 

Rather than being drowned, however, the pair contain the play within the framework of gods being brought down by their own hubris. Inspired by the “pots and pans” revolution in Iceland, they offer a powerful reminder that small actions can bring about great change.

 

The Audit tours until November 6 and A Machine They’re Secretly Building until November 7, details: proto-type.org

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