the_crash.test is the latest immersive theatre experience from Hijinx to dive headfirst into the wonderful world of digital puppetry. Using hybrid platforms to captivate its audience, it tells the story of fictional company Figital and their artificial intelligence creation, named Bob. Bob develops affection for an emotionally brittle member of the Figital team: much like Frankenstein’s monster, this robot hasn’t had the rich tapestry of unspoken rules concerning human nature explained to him.
All told, this was one of the most interesting, strange and amazing stage experiences I’ve had for a long time. Watching the_crash.test via livestream, I enjoyed the ability to participate alongside the live performance via polls that sway the narrative and allowed the crash test dummy to be controlled by more than one actor. This was despite elements of it being present in many performances I’ve seen before, such as breaking the fourth wall (as seen in The Lehman Trilogy) and using one actor to represent more than one character – which also makes for a safer COVID-era working environment. The use of technology to give a performance a digital platform is also something we saw a lot through lockdown.
The tense relationship between characters Ben and Owen, and the comic relief of Betty, was hugely beneficial, ensuring the play’s seriousness was augmented by humour. The transitional music was helpful, too, ensuring any silences during the performances were covered. This was interspersed with propaganda regarding Figital’s business proposal: with the business worth £8 billion, under no circumstances can the investors learn of its teething problems.
A personal issue I had was that the main narrative undercuts this business proposal, leaving the audience interested in how this seed of an idea might bloom. I was optimistic, to begin with, that this might be a happy ending – but with Hijinx, we are never delivered the story we expect. Instead, we watch as Bob is unable to comprehend the unlawful action he commits to help someone, one that will ultimately make him “happy”. Bob is always learning and listening to try to help those he deems worthy, despite any legal obligations.
Using screens as a way to explore voice and connection allowed us to be more involved in ways we haven’t since before COVID. There were cutaway scenes backstage, and it was interesting to see the inner machinations of the cast – like watching a blooper reel as things started to fall apart. The most interesting part was the ending statement: trying to co-exist with this ever-learning robot. Much like Frankenstein’s monster, Bob is an evolving entity, unshackled from the rules of society and asking questions that we as adults have already learned. The focus on being downloaded onto an ancient system ended the piece in a much more psychological and psychedelic way than I was expecting, but was well worth it.
The simplicity of the_crash.test is a complete marvel. It strips away any artifice and focuses wholly on its value as improvisational theatre at its best.
Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff Bay, Fri 13 May
words BILLIE INGRAM SOFOKLEOUS
the_crash.test will be performed again as part of Hijinx’s Unity Festival, Fri 24 June at the Wales Millenium Centre, Cardiff Bay. Tickets: £12. Info: here.
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