In the hours and days since Proto-type theatre performed A Machine they’re Secretly Building as part of Enable US festival, privacy has been at the forefront of my mind. From the steps you take to the photo of your dinner you send to your mum, is anything truly yours?

Set in what could be a left-wing news desk, a classroom or a secret hideaway, Rachel Baynton and Gillian Lees depict the threats we all face to our privacy. Taking it in turns, line by line, the double act speak for both those who enforce surveillance and who are surveyed.

Structured as a historical narrative, they begin by introducing the birthplace of intelligence and surveillance: WWI. Accessibility is key to the success of this fast-paced production. Using an interactive chess game to map the Cold War, alongside a multimedia slideshow relevant to their explanations, they achieve full audience engagement. This was only reaffirmed by the laughter at witty, political jokes pitched at the right level for the diverse audience the show attracts.

Moving swiftly, we’re transported to a time where we see a rise of terrorism and digital connectivity. The world wide web is born and society is becoming mere data points as they share more and more of themselves online. Following 9/11, terrorism and media coverage is used as a tool to instill fear within us all. But writer Andrew Westerside doesn’t want our focus to lie here, instead he criticises the governments and businesses that enforce surveillance upon society.

A whistle stop tour of the history of surveillance delivered by just Bayton and Lees on stage is pure magic. The two do well switching from compliance to rebellion tones so quickly and convincingly. Their credible performance cause the audience to experience their characters anxiety and paranoia, and the studio is filled with an uncomfortable stiffness. Deserving credit goes to the writing of Westerside and Lees convincingly emotive delivery of a monologue about self identity and conformity.

Despite the heavy themes of this production, Westerside does not fail to make us laugh. The reoccurring ridicule of the naming of companies along the way adds the relief the audience yearn for.

The set design is a fantastic addition to an already enthralling performance. It allows for swift transitioning from the focal news-desk without diverting attention from the script. Pink balaclavas enhance the paranoia as the cast describe a future where ‘the machine’ (in reference to PRIZM, a central database in the US) no longer needs people to switch it on.

The content of A Machine they’re Secretly Building stings. It is an apt, poignant reminder that we often become ignorant and compliant to governmental wrong doings. If we wish for privacy whilst doing a Tesco order or walking down the street, we must be aware of the background workings and challenge them. Put perfectly by Edward Snowden, “Arguing that you don’t care about the right to privacy because you have nothing to hide is no different than saying you don’t care about free speech because you have nothing to say.”

Image Credit: Fenia-Kotsopoulou and Proto-type theatre


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