There are a lot of things about the direction the world is travelling that worries me but not technology. I love the thought of what possibilities the future holds. But there is definitely a negative side that has begun to manifest itself – the loss of human connection. Whether it be self checkout registers, texting, email, on-line purchasing or the need to fill in every pause in life with an update on our smart phones, watches or tablets. It is this evolution of technology and devolution of humanity that drives Julian Larnach‘s In Real Life.
Both actors are only referred to as ‘Performer’ in the program reinforcing the degeneration of humanity but making the description of the synopsis tricky. The opening visual of a girl (Elizabeth Nabben) intentionally cutting her finger and watching the blood trickle down her hand established immediately and effectively one of the main themes of the play. We then meet the girl’s mother (Anni Finsterer) and their discordant relationship becomes very clear.
The mother invented a device that is now used by nearly everyone to keep connected, to keep informed, to record and store information – to basically do everything you needed want. It’s popular, the only people that do not use it are those that are technophobes or those who want to stay ‘off-the-grid’. The daughter, dissatisfied with this technological life and her self obsessed mother, walks away from it all. In this 75 minute, one-act play we see how the mother copes with the disappearance of her daughter and the different ways she uses technology to try and retain her memory or even bring her back. The final attempt being a mix of humanity and technology resulting in a beautiful, insightful penultimate scene.
Julian Larnach‘s play is astute and inventive. This peek into the future feels believable (although having the ability to build human-like robotics with the ability to learn while still signing contracts with pen and paper feels wrong but I’ll admit to this being picky). Larnach tells a good story, the dialogue is realistic and honest and there is a lovely witty sense of humour woven into this play. Personally, I would have preferred the final monologue scene to have been cut. The scene that preceded it was beautiful and the final moments said everything that the play seemed to be saying. Not directly and sometimes without words. This would have ended the play on a beautiful, touching and impacting moment. I found the final monologue jarring as it was the only time there was a monologue and it felt like it brought up new issues and the views expressed seemed to be a little counter to the mother’s thoughts and words moments before. But the final moments are still satisfyingly impacting and dramatic. Pushing the play more towards the sinister possibilities of the future rather then the personal evolution of the plays characters.
Luke Rogers direction is strong. There is no doubt we are in the future and technology has advanced but it is embedded in a visual and aural reality that is not too far from now. It doesn’t feel or look like a Sci-Fi story. The active choice to not use monitors and digital media is clever.
Rogers uses visual moments, like the opening, in between scenes very effectively. It helps drive story and character and maintains pace. It also is a style that helps reinforce the fragmentary human condition that is evolving. Set, Sound and Lighting all neatly worked together to create this futuristic and fragmented feeling.
Georgia Hopkins‘ set very effective. Stark and modern. White walls with minimal shelving, a frosted glass sliding door through which we can see foliage is a nice touch. It is through these doors that the daughter will leave when she turns her back on technology. The floor space is broken up into three levels, reinforcing fragmentation.
James Brown‘s sound design and compositions underpin the show and effectively create the futuristic feel without delving into gimmicky tricks. Sian James-Holland‘s lighting is clever. Mostly (if not all) white creates a cool, stark image while never being completely cold and unsettling. Harsh isolated flashes of different parts on the stage in between scenes contributed to the overall style and feel.
Elizabeth Nabben gave a wonderful performance. She played about five different characters, each one was distinguished with some slight costume changes over the basic black trousers and Blundstones. Nabben (and Rogers) didn’t try to overcomplicate the change between the different characters. The differences were not extreme but specific, clear and noticeable. In particular, as the daughter there was a lovely sad/soulful quality that clearly differentiated her from the joyful, hope-filled and carefree final character. It is between these two that there could have been some confusion but the choices made ensured there was no doubt. For me, Anni Finsterer felt a little uncomfortable in the role and did not quite have the character settled. There seemed a little too much emotion and character ‘shown’ rather than ‘felt’. This may settle down after a few shows.
Overall this is an enjoyable play with some interesting things to say about technology, ourselves and the future with an entertaining and poignant story. With a bonus, a little snippet of one of Australian’s iconic (and in this play, now a centenarian’s) hits, Pressure Down – Although how they can dance to this song and not start singing along amazes me. Thoroughly enjoyed.
Lynden Jones: Theatre Now
Photo Credits: Phil Erbacher
15 Sep – 15 Oct 2017
Tue – Sat: 7.30pm
Saturday Matinees: 7 & 14 October 3pm 2017
Venue: Eternity Playhouse
Theatre Company: Darlinghurst Theatre