A compelling take on tech

26 April 2019

Review: Bow & Dagger, ‘The Double’ ·
The Blue Room Theatre, 24 April ·
Review by Varnya Bromilow ·

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If you’re as old as I am, you might find yourself vaguely disappointed with the advent of “the future”. Where are the jet shoes, submarine cars and food pills that were promised to us on Towards 2000?

Lately though, things have started seeming a little more Bladerunner-esque and slightly less 1984, what with hoverboards, self-driving cars and Alexa. The Double, a new play from Bow & Dagger, premiering at the Blue Room this week, is based loosely on the concept of Alexa, revved up as an all-knowing AI presence. Billed as a cyber-gothic nightmare, this riveting 80-minute play is not quite that, but its depiction of a tech-driven dystopia is certainly spooky.

Victoria is a struggling actress who has auditioned for an unusual role – to be the embodiment of a tech giant’s (an amalgam of Apple and Google) artificial intelligence product, Vivy. Like Alexa and other products in the current tech marketplace, Vivy can calculate sums, answer and place calls, adjust the lighting, play you entertainment or answer your trivial questions. Unlike Alexa, Vivy copies and learns the behaviours of its human model, Victoria. Victoria spends her days in a room provided by the generous tech host, working with programmers as they simulate her every expression, movement and vocal tone as they create the new product. Guess what? It doesn’t end well.

This obviously isn’t a surprise – how can it be when your show is marketed as a nightmare? But despite the fact that we know we’re in for an unpleasant or at least uncomfortable ride, the descent into dystopia is remarkably measured. Devised and written by Clare Testoni, The Double is, for the most part, so tautly written that Victoria’s journey is compelling even though we know things are headed south. Aided by some fine performances – Amanda Watson is particularly good – the narrative never feels entirely predictable, a considerable feat for a work dealing in the well-trodden ground of evil tech.

A performer stands, arms outstretched,  in front of projections of cyborgs and code, in 'The Double'.
Photo: David Cox Media.

There are some curious choices here. Testoni opts to have Victoria represented by three actors – Watson, Phoebe Sullivan and Michelle Aitken – who swap roles with head-spinning regularity. Despite the lack of physical resemblance between the three (blunted partly by identical wigs), this conceit is tricky… I wondered whether the role-swapping would have been less disconcerting had Testoni chosen to switch the roles up earlier in the show. As a viewer, I felt I was just getting to know Sullivan as Victoria when she suddenly morphed into Watson’s version. There was also some odd-looking computer-rendered imaging of the faces when beamed onto a background screen – this was a central visual element of the show and while it certainly contributed to the sinister feel, not all of the actors had the necessary stillness required to pull this off seamlessly.

But these are minor quibbles. The Double is an ambitious, provocative work that was always going be challenging to stage within the confines of the modest-but-lovely Blue Room. The show is a compelling take on the dissociative perils of our tech-driven, obsessively curated lives, and succeeds in straddling the fine line between cautionary tale and entertainment.

The Double runs until May 11.

Pictured top is Phoebe Sullivan in ‘The Double’. Photo: David Cox Media.

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Author —
Varnya Bromilow

Varnya Bromilow is a happy dilettante who has worked as a journalist, advocate, oral historian, teacher and train driver. She spent 15 years with the ABC, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and The West Australian and enjoys writing fiction. She loves guinea pigs and the thrill of a good slide.

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