The rewiring of human connections by social media is a frequent – and frequently mishandled – concern of much theatre on the Fringe. In the imagined dystopian future of The Hive, however, virtual connection is all we are left with. Interacting only via screens, do humans still have the capacity to form genuine relationships?
Human Zoo Theatre Company have dreamed up a distant future in which the planet has been ravaged by war and the survivors have burrowed underground, building themselves the Hive of the title. As a precaution to ensure peace, humans are no longer allowed any physical contact. Instead, each citizen of the Hive remains safely enclosed in his or her cell, communicating through a network of computers and tended to by machines.
In predictable dystopian fiction style, the Human Zoo quickly offer up a dissident hero: Koto, a citizen who yearns for something more than the world he can access through the screen in his cell. Breaking out of his metal prison, he starts a covert relationship with a fellow citizen and dreams of escaping to the surface, while the supposedly infallible Hive begins to malfunction around him.
The telling of this story opts for style more than narrative fluency. There is no doubt that the Human Zoo have potential, but they are still battling a tendency to solve problems by pelting them with everything they have. Physical theatre, puppetry, shadowplay, toe-curling spoken word – there’s little the company don’t try at some point. They are at their best when manipulating lighting and their own bodies, using only picture frames to evoke this world’s ubiquitous screens in a demonstration of the powerful simplicity that they would have done better to stick with.
There are also some fairly sizable holes in the story that the Human Zoo have chosen to tell. Elements of it are not so much enigmatic as baffling, begging distracting questions about the incomplete world that has been crafted on stage. Meanwhile the questions The Hive should ask, questions about connection, conflict and surveillance, are relegated in favour of the sweet but insubstantial central romance.
Part of the problem is that dystopia is a notoriously tricky genre to perfect on stage, particularly with a shoestring budget. To get it right, theatre-makers need a more distinct and straightforward conceit than the Human Zoo find themselves saddled with. As a Fringe debut from a young company, The Hive shows glimmers of promise, but as a bleak dystopian vision of the future it falls well short of its ambitions.