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“To keep you safe” becomes a haunting mantra over the course of A Machine They’re Secretly Building – and with good cause.

Proto-type Theatre lifted the title of this show from an Edward Snowden quote, blowing the whistle on government surveillance. As a lecture performance, we are informed on the history of observation techniques, as well as hinted towards the ethical precariousness of mass surveillance. The company combines original text and classified intelligence documents with film by Adam York Gregory, and music and sound design by Paul J. Rogers, to vent their frustration at the “insidious machine of surveillance”. Andrew Westerside’s play is compelling and informative, but the first half is too static and slow-paced. Arguably, this production would work effectively as a radio-play, with its historical and political drama mood.

compelling vignettes, exploring the relationship between privacy and personal freedom

Performers Rachel Baynton and Gillian Lees, with the help of a large projector screen, a desk, a filing cabinet and two balaclavas, cram in an awful lot: the Cold War, the advent of the internet, Snowden, the Snooper’s Charter and more. They not only clinically articulate the moral dubiousness of mass surveillance, but coolly observe how silently it’s inveigled its way into our everyday lives, too.

The cast are accompanied by projections, a desk, a filing cabinet, and clad in two hot-pink Pussy Riot inspired balaclavas. Their performances are the greatest element of this play, as they dynamically shift from the lecture style to the vernacular and “scared citizen” tone. We witness some compelling vignettes, exploring the relationship between privacy and personal freedom.

Despite excellent acting, the production is missing a revelatory message

Despite excellent acting, the production is missing a revelatory message. We already know about the Investigatory Powers Act and vast Utah warehouses storing all our internet history. The show does cover a vast amount of information and material, and is excellently portrayed, however it lacks overall impact – there is no final message to leave us reeling.


3/5

A Machine They’re Secretly Building is showing at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, information and tickets here.

Image: Proto-type Theatre, Adam York Gregory

Tara Carlin

Tara Carlin has just graduated from UCL with a degree in English. She has written for the Financial Times, Financial Adviser, and Savage Online. She is an actor and director and has recently set up a theatre company named Shakespeare’s...

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