Roomba Nation – Oh what value this illness? (Theatre Review)

Roomba Nation

505 Theatre from July 4 – 21.

You can grab your tickets here.

Images:  Stephen Reinhardt.

“Hippocrates applied himself only to observation and despised all systems. It is only by following in his footsteps that medicine can be perfected.”[1]

In Roomba Nation a peculiar and yet delightfully sinister distance establishes itself on behalf of The Observing gaze. Pippie (Alison Bennet) is tended by robots attempting warmth and watched by humans attempting a cool distance; specifically Observational Gaze which is silent and gesture-less. Correct observation insists on a removable of the obstacles erected to reason such as theories and obstacles erected to the senses by imagination. Doc (Kate Walder) the clinician, retains her purity of the gaze via a silence that enables her to listen. This silence is not the absence of noise, it is the absence of engagement. The listening is not the same as hearing, rather it is an observation without memory or history. Pippie’s value lies in her compliance and her willingness to be observed. The doctors gaze will be fulfilled inside its own truth and it will create access to a universal truth if it approaches and engages with this silence and if everything keeps silent around what it sees. Pippie must honor this silence by not interfering it with her humanness. Her subjectivity is closer to being realized the better she is at behaving like an object. As Alison Bennet (concept design) suggests, Pippie does not even need a disease to be able to successfully gain a result from observation and treatment.

As with Trade before Roomba Nation, Hurrah Hurrah observes social phenomena from deep inside its own philosophy in order to properly examine. In Roomba Nation, immediately obvious is the question; What is the point of making technology more human-like concurrently with forcing the highest expression of humanity into a dispassionate gaze? Doc and Nursie (Nick O’Regan) refuse their humanity to be more useful, while they direct small roomba vacuum cleaners to deliver small necessities to the patient. Their warmth flows through technology (can only be expressed via technological mediums) while their value is assessed by accomplishment. To cure Pippie technology needs to be nicer and humans need to be more efficient. Observation of the patients day fall under four categories: evolution of symptoms, possible appearance of new phenomena, state of the secretions and the effect of medications used. The final stage is that of speech. Phenomena is packaged and delivered via language through an upbeat presentation to colleagues and investors.

In the possible event of death ( that which none of us will escape) the anatomy of the body is recalled and observed as if from a distance; As if a body were not being used to Gaze upon another body. In this regular alternation of speech and gaze the disease (or any disease or no disease) gradually “declares its truth” (As Foucault would say) “…a truth that it offers to the eye and ear, whose theme … can be restored in its indubitable totality; that which sees and that which listens. This is why the questionnaire without the examination an the examination without the interrogation were doomed to an endless task; it belongs to neither to fill the gaps within the province of the other.” [2] In the end, Pippie’s sickness is only death and can only be death. It doesn’t matter if The Illness exists or doesn’t. Pippie, the doctor, the nurse, the roomba’s and the illness are in service of medical progress, and discomfort with this fact is entirely proportionate to acceptance.

A hearing gaze and a speaking gaze: clinical experience represents a moment of balance between speech and spectacle. This is a precarious balance because it rests on a formidable postulate: that all that is visible is expressible (and fundable) and that it is wholly visible because it is expressible (and fundable).  Hurrah Hurrah are not so much concerned with questioning our medical practitioners (though I doubt this would trouble them much) as they are with us asking ourselves of what value this illness of mine? As Nietzsche would say: Illness is a clumsy attempt to arrive at health. Is not the veneration of those who ‘cure’ more akin to love of faith healers than an interest in problem solving?

Roomba Nation is another excellent production from the Hurrah Hurrah theatre company who have an uncanny ability to draw from the strengths of disparate intellects, fuse them through the filter of Alison Bennet and produce delightfully ephemeral works that transform perspective. Wrapped up in the delightful design concept by Duncan Maurice, there is a light hearted beauty in this production that acts as a steely support for its great intelligence. Devised in co-operation with Felcity Nicol, Nick O’Regan, Ruudi Hendrix, Moreblessing Maturure, Tom Caley, Jac Marriot, Melissa Hume, Alison Bennett & Aslam Abdus-samad a cohesiveness nestles over the concept and imbues the production with a great optimism despite its rather dark themes. Hurrah Hurrah are fast becoming one of the most important theatre companies in the vibrant Sydney theatre scene and Roomba Nation is another of their triumphs.


[1] Clifton, Etat de la medicine ancienne et moderne (Paris 1742)

[2] Faucult, The birth of the Clinic “Seeing and Knowing.”