Cerys-Leigh Phipps reviews the_crash.test, a Hijinx play made in partnership with Wales Millennium Centre, Pontio and Theatr Ffwrnes, which explores the implications of technological advancements in a fictional near future.
“Am I in control?” This is the question posed by Hijinx in their latest play, The_Crash.Test – and the answer may not be the one you expect. Set in the near future, The_Crash.Test offers a warning about the advancements of technology, as owners of the Hi-Tech company “Figitial” are soon to discover. The_Crash.Test is, at its heart, a modern-day dystopia asking the age-old question of “what if?” (but with a consumerist, technological twist). The audience, or “investors” as they are referred to, are introduced to BOB, a brand-new piece of tech that is able to live for you. Have a meeting you don’t want to go to, or another lunch with your in-laws? Well, BOB has you covered. However, when BOB enters the internet and learns more about our world, they start to meddle, and things begin to fall apart. Just because this technology is available, does that mean we should use it?
Directed by Hijinx’s Ben Pettitt-Wade, the performance is the company’s third piece of “hybrid theatre” in which technology and performance are combined to send a message regarding 21st century society. Technology and its usage are at the core of this, as the audience is presented with a QR code that enables viewer participation via mobile phones. From this point onward, you know that this will be an unorthodox performance. Skilfully intertwining human interaction and technical advancement, The_Crash.Test uses a combination of human puppetry and motion capture technology to create BOB. The actors take turns to control the voice, gestures, and stance, with the audience fully aware of how this is being achieved. Through their mobile devices, too, the audience are able to have their say on performance direction through voting polls. With a sense of responsibility for the play’s outcomes placed on the audience, the question arises: who is really in control – the audience, the performers, or BOB?
The_Crash.Test is also a heavily stylised piece of theatre. With the actors multi-rolling and “behind the scenes” sequences in which they discuss the action and how the production is going to be performed, The_Crash.Test becomes more of a shared experience between audience and performers than a typical play. Every aspect of the piece keeps coming back to the driving theme of technological advancement and the potential issues that may arise from it. With a minimalistic yet symbolic set, the stage is dressed with two screens upstage and another transparent screen taking up the length of the performance area downstage. The effect it creates is akin to watching the action through a device screen, as though the drama is controlled by the technology being used.
It is of course important to note the comical aspects of the performance, too, and there are many. Keeping to the company’s Cardiff roots, the classic “No its Welsh, its P-W-L-L… no there’s a double L, yes it’s a Welsh address… no double L…” is a small yet relatable moment . Equally funny are the infamous COVID-era Zoom meetings which make a hilarious appearance, breaking up the seriousness of the storyline with a bit of light-hearted cultural commentary (and it’s not the only current reference, with fictional company “FikFok” making an appearance, too).
Dubbed “a Frankenstein tale for our time”, the issue of control returns time and time again. As the play draws to a close, BOB is labelled as a monster, directly referencing the classic Frankenstein story. However, is this the reality? Who is the monster and who is in control? Is it the audience and their choices who are to blame, the creators of BOB, or BOB itself? Are the audience the creators of the mess, or merely spectators? With no objective answer, you’ll have to pay a visit to The_Crash.Test to find out.
the_crash.test is playing at WMC’s Weston Studio.
Images courtesy of Kirsten McTernan.