Since Orwell’s 1984, have we been in any hurry to welcome the future? Often cast in a dystopian light, we’ve come to expect a future world ravaged by war and out-of-control technology. The outlook isn’t any less grim in Lauren-Shannon Jones’s tremendously ambitious new play for The New Theatre, set in a reality where attention spans are zapped by role-play gaming and vampiric talk show hosts (actually, it sounds a lot like the present).
Megan O’Flynn’s cold and distant Anna moonlights as a media goddess, transmitting a religion of entertainment from her apartment. Her only contact with the outside world is Shane Robinson’s modest messenger Auster (why he is wearing a goat mask or why she is receiving packages of white clothes isn’t clear, though it does set up a nice scene later on). Can they come together in a hyper-connected world?
To stage this high-concept drama, director Nora Kelly Lester thrillingly puts set designer Janna Kemperman and lighting designer Cathy O’Carroll to work at pushing The New Theatre towards new possibilities. Impressive space is made on the white stage for Anna and Auster’s apartments, rendered by neat beams of light and built frames. Most excitingly, Kevin Freeney’s visual projections warp to defamiliarising effect for Anna’s brainwashing broadcasts.
The absence of the natural world or any recognisable government suggests a hint of Bladerunner, with Robinson’s Auster and his sexually frustrated gamer pals (humorously voiced by Dylan Tonge Jones) something of an underclass not out of place in Ridley Scott’s movie. The best scene of the night is one saturated in ultra-violet, creating the illusion that the characters have disrobed from their outlandish dress to intimately hold each other, in strange shades not unlike that of Jonathan Glazer’s Under the Skin.
But Jones’s imagination has gotten the best of her. The play crumbles under the pressure of establishing its fantastic world. The language can also be awkward and makes use of cringey technological metaphors (having signal problems, hiding emotions behind a personal firewall). Anna’s monologues are the stuff of purple prose, demonstrative and hard to decode, and the 11th hour arrival of a Rebel to assassinate her media personality feels out of the blue without any foregrounding.
Despite a hell of a gamble by The New Theatre (you’d only wish they’d involved a dramaturge in their artists’ residency), this look at intimacy in a far, far future isn’t wholly satisfying. Still, anticipate the next time Jones and Lester unleash their wild imaginations.
Pink Milk is on until 9th July 2016 at The New Theatre in Dublin. Click here for more information.