Zeroville – Lies Lies and Propoganda go a little Avant Godard. (Theatre review)
Photos by Sasha Cohen
As director Michael Dean states in his notes in the program to Zeroville, Stephen Hawking warned us at the end of 2015 “that the development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race.” And yet, states Dean, to worry about this, or to examine it creatively, is no longer fashionable. This is possibly due to our existing fractured relationship with machines – about five times a day I wish to holy hell I had a machine a tenth as smart as me, or at least one that performs simple commands easily or that didn’t lose everything each time I updated or that didn’t act as a perfect conduit for the endless rantings of the newest Java fix. And that describes the ones that work. The general populace just can’t belive in super machines because we’ve been told they are coming for almost one hundred years and as we tentatively invite each new incarnation into our world, it never lives up the hype and promise surrounding it.
And yet, it is there. The faults inherent in the now endless fibre systems that surround us disarm our fears and install a certain kind of security that does not play itself out on closer observation. We laughed in the 1960’s at the suggestion that a computer could provide you with a perfect love match, and yet the use of social media to find relationships or to just hook up is pervasive and unlikely to go. We know love matches founded on Facebook are almost always based on misrepresentation or that eHarmony doesnt’ rescue one from the complications of relationship, and yet we embrace these mediums as if they will save us from lonliness or doomed passion. We dive in. Rather than live with a fear that AI will get so powerful it dominates and takes us over, we are reducing civilization to match the flaws inherent in the hyper computerised lifestyle.
No where is this more obvious than in the arts, the first signifier of cultural decline, where writers, philosophers and artists struggle to find a foothold in a world that replaces them with substandard contributions sanctioned by the pretence of connecting with a ‘real person.’ A writer friend immersed in the world of ‘science’ told me “we use art the same way birds use feathers.” I was appalled by this, as I’ve always believed artists to be the antennae for the world. It is our job to read/research where the general populace is at and reflect it back at them revealing an unexamined consequence of current actions and behaviour. Art isn’t a titillating reward at the end of at hard work day. It’s the beacon in the dark, warning us against hitting the rocks. Every despot or totalitarian regime has destroyed (or controlled financially) art as the first act of domination in the history of the world. If you think the machines aren’t taking over, look at what they’ve done to art and our appreciation of it.
Enter Zeroville, the latest incarnation of the fantastic theatre company Lies, Lies and Propoganda to provide just such a reflection on this very current subject matter.
Like Godard’s Alphaville that inspired it, Zeroville is a superb mesh of contemporary and ‘futuristic’ visions that work toward a united objective of both collaborative awareness and the essential nature of the individual in governing her own life. Lies, lies and Propaganda didn’t have a writer for Zeroville, preferring to collaborate through workshops and research to come up with their creepy utopian vision, but it must be said that the real writer in the foundations is Godard himself, perfectly realised as the main character who walks the glass halls and creepy town psyche dressed as Lemmy Caution and following a narrative both appropriated and distorted from Alphaville. However, to make the link with the iconic film wrestles with its own representational problems as the vision brought forward by Lies Lies and Propaganda is decidedly unique and taps into its source material, not seeking creative parental permission, but rather as an homage to the important role pop culture plays in our lives. Zeroville is entirely the work of its ensemble of creatives and Godard exists within in it by invitation only, not via sycophantic adoration of his work. (I know all about that because I am an appallingly sycophantic admirer of Godard.)
Couple this fantastic vision with the insight of the Anywhere Festival (a brilliant theatrical initiative that comes to Parramatta) and you have the perfect setting for the visceral knowledge of Zeroville. Settled in the glass pavilion in the Heritage Courtyard in the Justice Precinct of Parramatta, Zeroville couldn’t be better placed to brings its warnings against our obsessions with rationalism and logic that make us so complicit in a corporate world that admires automaticity and judges human capacity according to function (We Are The Tax Payer). The law itself, deemed so rational, we know to be its own hysterical monster more representational than arbiter of that which is the best for society, surrounds Zeroville’s transparent walls like a dark utopian dinosaur ready to relinquish its humanity for its fantastical belief in a single version of truth. Within the glass walls of the pavilion we sit with the residents of Zeroville, literally in the dark, and watch the inexpressive faces of the protagonists, the flashes of horrific violence and the overall sense of incongruity and imbalance. Complacency is the weapon of control – something we understand far too well in our current day.
The senses and feelings of displacement are brought about by the movement of the cast, who embody complicity and work hard in their efforts to control their mind on behalf of A.N.N.A, the perfect AI intelligence that controls Zeroville. Of all the movements choreographed by Rachel Weiner, perhaps the most chilling is the absence of the brief flicker of a question that never flashes over the residents faces. This is highlighted through the engagement between Godard, a truly fantastic Amy Scott-Smith, and #2, the beautifully imposing figure of Danielle Baynes. The last words of Alphaville, “je vois amie” (I love you all) is the subject of the connection between Godard and #2 as they reach beyond flawless function to find a place to feel a connection with all the residents of Zeroville, a collection of anxiety free automatons whose defense is emotional impenetrability.
For such a small space, Zeroville has a large cast of creatives who bring so much of themselves to the project that the layers and complexity extend far beyond the reach of the source material. The cool impassioned stare of Jasper Garner-Gore and Benjamin Garrard at the back of the room as their beautiful, 1960’s / Louis and Bebe Baron inspired music (actually the music in Zeroville is both light and sumptuous – something I really enjoyed) is reflected and enhanced by a fascinating and magical performance by Sinead Curry as A.N.N.A. Katrina Rautenberg plays a modern-day Henry Dickson called ‘Bacall’ in another fabulous homage and Emily Elise, Amanda Laing, Eliza Scott and Jennifer White are the strange greek chorus of residents at Zeroville. All of this is wrapped up under Michael Dean’s always remarkable direction that in this case, gives Zeroville a connection and unity of vision coalescing the welcomed disparate voices of his gaggle of clever creatives.
Lies Lies and Propaganda is shaping up to be one of the most interesting theatre companies in Sydney, whose vision and dedication to theatrical integrity go hand in hand to make powerful creative statements about what theatre is capable of and where it is headed. Unfortunately my review has come when the season is over, but if you get a chance to see Zeroville in the future, leap at the chance.