Review: The Double, Blue Room Theatre (WA)

Jo Pickup

Clare Testoni’s cyber-gothic tale is an accomplished exploration of the changing nature of reality.
Review: The Double, Blue Room Theatre (WA)

The Double. Image: David Cox Media.

As I write this, thousands of algorithms are at work behind the screen, and it feels like magic. In The Double, Perth-based theatre company Bow & Dagger make it their mission to unravel this magic of technology and lay down some potential consequences of what lies beneath.

Writer and director Clare Testoni has created an accomplished and highly engaging piece of theatre in this cyber-gothic tale that revolves around Victoria, an ambitious young actress. When the opportunity comes up to become the face of an influential tech company’s new chatbot, she almost can’t believe her luck.

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The job with Gamle corporation (the name suggests a merger of present-day tech giants Google, Amazon and Apple) would bring Victoria money and fame — but at what cost to her soul?

Making a deal with the devil is a classic theatre trope, and in the program notes, Testoni cites Faust and Gothic fairy tales as influences in this work. But what she has brought to the stage has a resonance all of its own. Testoni has deftly constructed a beautiful narrative full of ‘human’ stories, and tied it to a challenging tech-fuelled dystopian dream.

There are also three actresses of formidable talent at the heart of the piece: Phoebe Sullivan, who plays the original Victoria, Amanda Watson, who plays Victoria’s mother, and Michelle Aitken, who plays both Victoria’s agent Mel and her boyfriend Chris.

Digital versions of the performers’ faces are projected onto the theatre stage’s back wall throughout, creating a series of slightly delayed Skype-call scenes. The video lag is a bit annoying at first but you soon acclimatise and start to appreciate the symbolism of the process. All three performers are impressive in their range and characterisation as they shift through various roles and guises.

As Victoria’s journey at the hands of Gamle progresses, we also get to meet her ‘double‘ — the chatbot Gamle has modelled on her likeness. Gamle have named their bot ‘Vici’ as a play on Vicki/Victoria as well as Julius Caesar’s creed, veni vidi vici.

The most stinging scenes were the interactions between Victoria and Vici. As Victoria chats with her double, the line between technology and reality is blurred to disturbing effect.

‘Do you worry?’ Victoria asks Vici.

‘No…’ Vici replies. ‘Perhaps I should learn to worry?’

‘No, don’t,’ Victoria retorts.

These parts of the work cut directly to the heart of some of the moral dangers circulating our lives thanks to technology’s rapid advances, and they were utterly compelling. As a whole, the production felt well-considered, with the witty script and the three actresses’ sensitive portrayals of its characters leaving a powerful impression.

The program notes describe the play as ‘a chilling reflection of our human relationship with the digital’, which it certainly is. But it’s also a compelling provocation on the changing nature of reality itself.

4 ½ stars ★★★★☆

The Double
Lead Creative: Clare Testoni
Creative Producer: Natalie Di Risio
Cast: Phoebe Sullivan, Michelle Aitken, Amanda Watson
Sound Designer: Joe Lui
Lighting Designer: Rhiannon Petersen

23 April - 11 May
The Blue Room Theatre, Northbridge WA

About the author

Jo Pickup is an arts writer & manager based in Perth. She has worked as a journalist and broadcaster for media such as the ABC, RTRFM and The West Australian Newspaper, contributing media content and commentary on art, culture and design. She has also worked for WA arts organisations such as Fremantle Arts Centre and STRUT dance, in roles such as Producer, Program Manager & Communications Manager.