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Review- Control: a clever and insightful thought-provoker

By Paul Kiely




Control

By Keziah Warner

Directed by Patrick Howard

A New Theatre Production

New Theatre

542 King Street, Newtown


Season: 5 - 30 July 2022. Bookings: https://newtheatre.org.au

Duration: 100 minutes (No interval)


Who knows what the future holds? One thing seems certain though and that is that Artificial Intelligence (AI) will play a controlling role in our lives.

This issue is the fundamental theme in a play by Keziah Warner called Control, currently presented by New Theatre at Newtown. If it weren’t for Keziah’s humorous style of writing, the subject matter she covers would be quite dark and serious.

The story is told over a fifty-year period. The starting point is in the not-so-distant future. A reality TV show has gone galactic and is streamed from a rocket ship headed to Mars. The goal of the four ‘contestant/astronauts’ is to land on Mars, carry out their show’s challenges for one year and then return to earth. An example of a romantic challenge is to find an opportunity to say “You could be the last person I ever see” to a fellow traveller.

As they go about their daily activities on board, the automations begin to malfunction intermittently, creating uncertainty and distress amongst the contestants. The 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 begin to take greater control over its supposedly human superiors.

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

The final location depicted in Control is on ‘New Earth’, or Mars as we used to call it. Residents can enjoy human-looking robotic AI machines to carry out all those menial tasks we no longer want to do, such as teaching our children. They can even empathise and be our friend; simply by adjusting their emotional balance settings to the required level. But the question is begged: Who is controlling who?

Control is a clever and insightful thought-provoker. Keziah Warner has beautifully grafted scientific speculation with the social behaviour of humanity. 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-40’s who, in Keziah Warner’s future world will presumably be relegated to old-earth duties. Animated and enjoyable performances from Emily Suine, Luke Visentin, Kaitlyn Thor, Riley McNamara, Olivia Xegas and Caitlin Williams.

An integral contributor to the success of Control is the excellent lighting, sound and stage effects. Set design was suitably futuristic and well-thought out.

For a somewhat different theatrical experience, Control is one to see. As Keziah Warner writes “it’s a sci-fi for people who don’t normally watch sci-fi”. Or, for my generation, ‘a Clayton’s sci-fi’.

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