Image: Rachel Perks and Bridget Balodis’ GROUND CONTROL; photograph by Sarah Walker.
Finally. At last. Science-fiction theatre is happening, and it’s being taken seriously. What better indication of this fact than the programming of Rachel Perks and Bridget Balodis’ [inter]stellar offering GROUND CONTROL in this year’s Next Wave Festival.
Science-fiction offers us a space to find new metaphors and languages for exploring very human issues. In theatre, it also offers us the potential of new audiences; those for whom the genre introduces an element of the familiar into what can be an exclusive and intimidating form. All the best of these qualities and more is on display in Perks and Balodis’ punchy 70-minute space drama.
In her program notes, Perks talks about cyberfeminism, irony, and the importance of reaching beyond easily digestible symbols and comforting solutions. This may make the piece sound alienating and esoteric, but it is the absolute opposite. A solid base of familiar sci-fi tropes is laid down in the first fifteen minutes, and from this familiar ground we can strike out into more challenging territory.
I don’t want to say too much more about where the piece goes or what is uncovered. Suffice to say it’s pretty much got it all – romance, action, violence, rogue artificial intelligence, a brief moment of Bowie. These are the digestible and familiar tropes, but the voice explored is one that isn’t heard enough – female, queer, and defiantly claiming its own validity in the often-male-dominated area of outer-space sci-fi narratives.
Every element of the production is worthy of mention. Matthew Adey and Amelia Lever-Davidson’s set is the perfect contained world for this claustrophobic drama. Marcel Dorney’s sound design gives us a clear sense of the AI-driven world of the ship, but with just enough of a hint of the uncanny to keep us aware of the precarious situation of our main character. Costumes by Zoe Rouse and even hairstyles add tantalising texture to this world.
It wasn’t until the lights came up at the end of the show that I realised just how deeply this work had spoken to me. The script is so clever and the stage-craft and performances so compelling that every moment of the show requires focused, embodied attention. Only once it was over could I process the enormity of what I’d seen – a narrative of contemporary female lived experience elevated to the worth and epic scale of science-fiction. In the enormity of space, in the face of the infinite and the infinitely unknown, one woman searching for notions of her own value, safety, personhood and connection.
I hope this season is only the beginning for this show, and for more meaningful science-fiction adventures on our stages. Go see it.
Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5
Creator/Performer: Rachel Perks
Performers: Emma Hall, Kai Bradley, Emily Tomlins and Catherine Davies
Director: Bridget Balodis
Dramaturg: Daniel Schlusser
Design: Matthew Adey (House of Vnholy) and Amelia Lever-Davidson
Sound Design: Marcel Dorney
Costume Designer: Zoe Rouse
Producer: Mark Pritchard
Video Content: Arie Rain Glorie
Next Wave Festival
Northcote Town Hall
4-14 May 2016