• Chris O'Rourke

Dublin Theatre Festival 2020: To Be A Machine (Version 1.0).


To Be A Machine (Version 1.0) Image by Jason Booher

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Traditionally a fun filled occasion, there was a touch of weariness to the online launch of Dublin Theatre Festival 2020, devastated by the governments decision to place Dublin on Level 3 Lockdown. Decimating months of hard work by artists and Dublin Theatre Festival organisers, and leaving DTF with a radically reduced programme. A Presidential address by Michael D. Higgins roused support for the artistic troops while urging them to stay strong. Meanwhile frontline veterans, DTF Artistic Director Willie White, and ANU Artistic Director Louise Lowe, spoke of the heart breaking realities of making art under Covid, including ANU's own DTF show, The Party To End All Parties, which has had to move online. Yet if disappointment was clearly evident at losing too many battles, they were clearly determined that theatre was not going to lose the war. And they are not alone.


Presented by Dead Centre as part of DTF2020, To Be A Machine (Version 1.0) by Mark O'Connell looks to technology to find some answers. If Dead Centre's meta-theatrical leanings frequently explore the mechanics of theatre, in To Be A Machine (Version 1.0) it's the mechanics of the body that arouses their interest. Blurring the line between human and cyborg, self and other, audience and performer, determinism and free will, O'Connell's script, adapted from his book, trades in Terminator theories delivered in a Ted Talk fashion by an engaging Jack Gleeson. Talking all things transhumanism, i.e., the use of technology to allow bodies upgrade to a higher ideal of the human, O'Connell oscillates between science fact and science fantasy, with some specious, philosophical speculation thrown in for good measure. From wearing glasses to prolonging life, to one day switching your lights on by flaring your nostrils, various exponents of transhuman technologies make some credible and spurious claims. Yet the underlying debate is real. Moving into the future, medicine - technological, pharamceutical, and genetic - will play a defining role in negotiating The Human Machine Version 2.0.


Who, or what it is that is trapped in a body, or waiting to be uploaded to another, is also up for negotiation. As, indeed, is theatre, which strives to connect with an audience of real people but finds its terms of reference - connect, audience, real, people - are themselves up for negotiation. And not just because of Covid. Directed by Bush Moukarzel and Ben Kidd, a third choice Glesson live streams while addressing a series of pre-programmed screens standing in for the bodies of an audience. With a playful, self-knowing take on "Hi, you might remember me from…" Gleeson does well at keeping interest alive working with modest visual support. For theatrics prove somewhat disappointing, given what we've come to expect from Dead Centre. Andrew Clancy's set, Stephen Dodd's lighting and Kevin Gleeson's sound, along with Jack Phelan's video design, speak to the workable rather than the memorable, even allowing for the circumstances under which the work was created.


If the body is a cage, transhumanism aims to alter the size and colour of the bars, maybe widen the cell a little, then call it evolution. But at what cost? To Be A Machine (Version 1.0) might aim to make theatre without the hindrance of the body, but it only serves to remind you how important the body is in making theatre. Yet one suspects O'Connell and Co. already know this. Throughout, To Be A Machine (Version 1.0) seeks to provoke questions rather than provide answers, delivering an extremely thought provoking production.


Like Rocky Balboa back in his day, Dublin Theatre Festival, and theatre artists in general, keep taking everything being thrown at them yet refuse to lie down. As with other recent ventures into reimagining theatre, Dublin Theatre Festival 2020 might prove to be a phyrric victory of sorts. But it is still a victory. Winning hearts and minds for proving that art never gives up and never gives in. Irish National Opera, whose own DTF production is currently postponed, have just announced their 2020/2021 Season. More proof, if proof were needed, that Irish artists, and Dublin Theatre Festival, will weather this storm only to come back stronger.


To Be A Machine (Version 1.0) by Dead Centre and Mark O'Connell, presented by Dead Centre and Dublin Theatre Festival, is live streamed from The Project Arts Centre on certain dates until October 10.


For more information on To Be A Machine (Version 1.0), and all Dublin Theatre Festival 2020 shows, including ANU's The Party To End All Parties, visit Dublin Theatre Festival 2020.


For information on Irish National Opera's 2020/2021 Season, visit Irish National Opera.

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© 2020 Chris O'Rourke