Theatre review: Technique

A sci-fi work that canvasses the intersections of power, technology and parenthood.

Melbourne- based theatre company Elbow Room’s new sci-fi work, Technique, was originally conceived in 2013 as the third part in a trilogy exploring the role of the religious impulse in the contemporary world.

As writer and director Marcel Dorney informed the audience on the night, this current performance will be developed further for future iterations. 

Technique is the story of Ellen, as told by herself and played by Elbow Room’s co-artistic director Emily Tomlins. She is a scientist engaged in a project to develop a human embryo from the fusion of two ova, a process that expands human reproduction beyond heterosexual limits, and has dire repercussions. The show explores themes of technology, power, agency, connection and the future of our species.

As a theatrical experience, Technique is a recital of Dorney’s expansive, hallucinatory, epic poem, which is about… well, everything, really. The themes extend well beyond those outlined by the media release, into humorous asides and serious meditations on human fallibility, frailty and folly, juxtaposed absurdly with the structures of science.

As the protagonist says several times of the discipline of Western science: whose knowledge is this, whose power does it serve? These points are emblematised by a metal device attached to the back of the neck which serves as an entry point for the uploads and downloads that determine how the master program feeds Ellen, and how their responses are fed back to inform said master program. 

All this is skilfully recited and performed by Tomlins. She moves effortlessly from the humorous to the tragic, to shock, employing rhythm, tempo, volume, and numerous modes of fourth wall breaking, to convey Dorney’s hyperreal romp to excellent effect. Another version of Ellen, who claims to be a non-Ellen, is distinguished by a robotic voice and yellow glasses, and untucks her beige robe to create a more casual mode of address. Although Ellen refences two friends/co-experimentees, they never actually manifest in the performance. This is very much a solo show. 

Read: Book review: Iris, Fiona McGregor

Minimal sound, lighting and staging subtly create moods and atmospheres which support and nuance the text and performance. From cheesy electronic elevator music, to gurgling laboratory sounds, glaring white light to menacing shadowed face, to sudden black outs accompanied by loud crashing noises, the sonic and lighting palate traverses and supports a multiplicity of shifting tones. The audience is arranged as two sides of a V-shape, along which Ellen walks, parades and meanders as she grippingly delivers the rich text. 

Technique is a thoroughly entertaining and thought-provoking night out.

The Stables, The Meat Market, Melbourne 
Director: Marcel Dorney
Actor: Emily Tomlins

Technique was performed 27 September- 2 October

Sarah Liversidge is a journalist and writer from Melbourne with various obsessions including politics, social issues and art in all its forms. She is currently completing a journalism degree at RMIT university where she is an editor at the student run publication, The Swanston Gazette.