Seeing Unseen – The greatest secrets hidden in the most unlikely places. (Theatre Review)
505 Theatre, 8 – 26 April
The impact of technology on our lives is a theme that contemporary theatre has been grappling with. It’s difficult to describe the nature of the disjointedness we all experience in technology as it is coupled with a peculiar freedom we enjoy in equal measure. Most attempts to portray this uneasy connection fall short, lapsing into a moral judgement that eventually feels too light weight to be properly examining what it is to be both human and constantly plugged into the internet.
Enter Seeing Unseen by the engaging and fascinating Old 505 Trio of Kerri Glasscock, Michael Pigott and Gareth Boylan, here assisted by Michael Cullen. In a brilliant twist, they’ve humanised technology (rather than robot-ised the humans) and brought it into the room as a nerdish geek who follows us everywhere, clarifying and demystifying our world in a way that can’t be questioned because it is rational and fact driven. The effect of this brilliant idea is instant – the twin characters of Her (Glasscock) and Him (Pigott) struggling in the daily world of human interaction are forced to define themselves, each other, their relationship and the world around them through the lens of this hyper-real rationality that commits itself to the service of the individuals, and yet suspiciously can’t help becoming the authority in each situation. A distinct absence of clathartic conflict pervades everything, as forgetfulness, fear, anxiety, insecurity and unfulfilled desire are expected to be handled by the now “seen” influence in the room.
Audaciously, this isn’t enough for Seeing Unseen and the human individuals it represents, so an interaction forces itself on the scenario, where the human creatures start to question the ruthless accuracy of their (un)seen guest. This interaction is clouded with the messy-ness of the “natrually human,” so that our conflict with technology exists in the chaotic drive to be “human” rather than in technology’s soulless, emotionless cry. Technology can learn empathy, but it can’t learn the unpredictable ruin, the death drive, the emotional and intellectual mess humans create in the evolutionary trajectory that in itself is a fecund soil from which things grow. The perpetual relationship with technology exists under an unspoken (unseen) awareness of its supremacy, that insists on the refusal of human mess and assumes the mess isn’t integral to the resolution of itself. Technology – at least as we see it as the social level – is a version of capital “t” Truth and Seeing Unseen wants to suggest, this is its ultimate flaw.
All this, and so much more, is conveyed through an abstract and disjointed narrative that manages to evoke an experience of connection and suspense without determined structural roots. If Seeing Unseen separates itself from us through its cleverness, it equally takes our hand and compels us into its strange world with the empathic warmth it insists is essential. The invitation (as with all great art) is to let go, trust and embrace, and it is this compulsion that will result in the audience member experiencing the greatest connection with the work. Seeing Unseen then becomes its own struggle/participation, compelling the audience to embrace its (non)message and indulge in all its anarchic refusals.
If there is a hand holder in Seeing Unseen, it is the unseen director, Gareth Boylan who uses his directorial position as an intuitive guide to project human warmth from the play as if it were a contradictory device. Despite their prickly behaviour toward each other, Glasscock and Pigott flood the theatre with warmth and connection, particularly expressed in their sleeping scenes, as if it is when their defenses are unintentionally down that we sneak in phantasmically and couple with their nervous psyches. We as the (un)seen viewer (the audience itself is seen and unseen – get it???) connect very deeply with the pair and manage to cooperate in great empathy and emotional connection. This even extends to Michael Cullen’s character, the cool detached technology we both loathe and love that is almost dog like in its devotion, that we interpret as a fearful presence desperate to consume us.
With all this abstraction, the piece is in danger of being so disjointed that a pretentious distance could impose itself, but Seeing Unseen is fully rescued from this through the use of internet tropes and the familiar daily inclusions of technology such as its imposition on our work, the strange and pervasive need we have for cute and/or funny YouTube videos, the recording of our life experience and the heavy and perceptual oppressive nature of big data. This phenomenon is so seamlessly interspersed with the real life experience of being human, that our recognition carries us a long way into connection rather than alienation. Is all this internet banter bringing us closer together, or separating us? To date, we don’t really know. But we will find out with the diving in, and that is what it is to be human.
Seeing Unseen is a masterwork devised by (non)writers in a collaborative space that uses the seemingly trivial banalities of our life to launch an escalated awareness of what it means to be human. It is a standout on the current Sydney theatre circuit and a fulfilling and exciting addition to the 2015 year.
Don’t miss it.