“Meet your targets, keep your job.” It is the year 2060 and an all-seeing government apparatus controls the lives of its citizens, whose reward comes in the form only of continued unquestioning servitude to a system seemingly ingrained. As the ‘motivational’ soundbite fades away we zone in on an office environment in which sit two of those citizens, Martha Blush and Jeremy Pivock.
The former calls out long-winded file names and statistics; the latter taps them into a computer, confirming them verbally as he does. Mobile monitoring devices spy on their every move. But the dehumanising words and surroundings are juxtaposed with furtive glances of desire from Martha and reciprocal reactions from Jeremy. In the midst of this controlled, oppressive environment, punctuated with maddening frequency by light and sound alarms and occasional unannounced visits from co-workers, the state machine – initially personified by a soundbite-spouting manager, John – notices that these two workers are falling behind with their targets. For their part, they’re noticing that they’re falling in love.
Writer/director Sasha C Damjanovski’s Project Snowflake perches cheekily on the shoulders of George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty Four. Jeremy and Martha – who turn out to be scientists at a ‘Creativity Institute’ developing a dream recorder rather than the data entry clerks initially supposed – are immersed in a totalitarian state and pursue freedom-through-love, not as conscious rebellion, but as a natural progression of their shared desire. Yet rather than offering up a sadistic O’Brien-like villain of the piece, the quirk here is with John, for he in turn is being controlled by targets set and regulations laid down by the state. As the dream recorder produces results of which the government disapproves, he merely passes on the pressure he feels. When he in turn rebels, the initial ‘us vs them’ scenario becomes more nuanced.
The narrative opens further to glimpse the lives of other members of the society similarly dehumanised by regulations and controls; in a scene especially pertinent amidst political debate over any future role of the private sector in the NHS, paramedics argue over who should sign a form and pick up the costs for John’s medical treatment before treating him. Everywhere there are citizens enforcing the state’s regulations on its behalf through their own semi-automatic actions, scared of losing their jobs.
Simon Desborough as Jeremy has more than a hint of the old-fashioned feudal hero about him, while Jonathan Leinmuller as the schmuckish middle manager John well depicts the highs and then lows of his rank’s lot in life, pressured from above and below; this is a villain who engenders pity rather than hate, a cipher of a system his actions help to maintain. As Martha, Laura Evelyn brightly grins in the manner of an evangelical kindergarten assistant as she follows her will against her scientist brain’s logical craving of safety. SheÕs on a rollercoaster and rather enjoying the ride; her enthusiasm and energy pit her against the state’s dead-eyed, regulation-reading automatons as she sets her face to whatever challenges are thrown in her path.
Damjanovski brings his film background to bear with sharply paced visual action and a script which takes sci-fi suppositions to their linguistic conclusions and provides material enough for the ensemble cast to enjoy themselves. Nikola Kodjabashia’s carnivalesque incidental music is almost a character in itself, reflecting the churn of bottled-up frustration felt by the main protagonists. David Shields’ spare though inventive set characterises the production’s flair, underscored by Matt Hall’s sound. And, crucially for an evening’s entertainment, there’s humour and humanity amongst the dystopia, even if the play doesn’t advance much in the way of new ideas.
Many a playwright would be pleased to achieve a production half as fulfilling after several attempts, so it’s a credit to Damjanovski that this is but his first full-length play. As both writer and director he is surely one to watch; his Project Snowflake is the theatrical equivalent of well-made pop music.