Eclipse Theatre and HOME with development support from Unity Theatre
The video for Peter Gabriel’s Sledgehammer concludes with him in a costume spotted with neon lights blending with the stars. Vice Versa opens with the less optimistic image of author and sole performer Dorcas Seb in a similar bodystocking making stop-start robotic dance moves as if merging with the garish purple computer circuits running down the rear of the stage.
In the near future, the welfare state has been replaced by the Welt.exe state which uses a series of apps to keep citizens compliant. Conversation is dead with all communication taking place via the fingertips and the screen. Xella (Dorcas Seb) is a devoted employee loyally facilitating the indoctrination of her fellow citizens until one day a computer glitch gives her a glimpse of an alternate lifestyle.
Dystopian futures are a standard feature of science fiction and the concept of the Internet becoming dominant has been covered on the page by William Gibson and the screen by the Matrix movies. Practical considerations make it highly unlikely the subject can be convincingly presented on stage, yet the imaginative approach taken in Vice Versa defies the odds.
Director Emmy Lahouel sets a sinister, artificial atmosphere. The omnipresent computer cannot be ignored with Barret Hodgson’s garish neon cityscapes and flickering images of running codes ever-present. The audience is part of the performance, seated on the stage as if awaiting their turn to be processed.
But the most effective ingredient in conveying a believable totalitarian state is Dorcas Seb’s performance. With too-wide eyes and a permanent beaming, insincere smile, she is very much the unquestioning corporate drone. Even when Xella rebels against the Welt.exe state, she retains an almost fanatical edge, pigeonholing passers-by like a chugger or evangelist trying to make a convert.
Vice Versa avoids potential pitfalls. As the story is told from the viewpoint of the brainwashed Xella, the dialogue is heavily stylised and full of corporate jargon. The numbing effect of so much doublespeak is avoided with Seb’s rhythmic speaking turning the jargon into blank verse. There is a sense Xella is unconsciously on the verge of rebellion throughout; Seb is a restless performer in constant dance-like motion as if seeking something of which she is unaware.
The dense text is further offset by the evocative score from Eliyana Evans. Key moments in the play are marked musically—this must be the first repressive regime in which indoctrination takes place to a disco beat.
Despite the jargon-filled text, Vice Versa is a lively play with an engaging central character and features an excellent performance.
Reviewer: David Cunningham