It is at Barbican Centre Pit Theatre, when the voice inviting us inside warns “there is a risk of death, but then, it is inevitable” that the audience seem to look at the white coats and goggles handed out to wear, and half wonder if there will be blood tonight. Welcome to The Machine, by Collectif and Then… a meticulously planned, at times confusing, and thoroughly fun show, blending acrobatics, installation, and performance art.
The audience enter, are given a nametag (either a John or a Mark), clock in, and are assigned unique tasks on a factory production line installation, complete with cycle and crank handle powered conveyer belts, overhead transporters whizzing overhead, and a control desk. Some get less glamorous tasks, such as cleaning, while some observe and write reports on general productivity.
If it sometimes feels like the audience is doing all the legwork, the “shift” is broken up by circus art “demonstrations” by the performers (Daves), feats of endurance, which the Johns and Marks are invited to disrupt, whether by hanging bags to weigh down a handstanding Dave, or, in a particularly cringeworthy scene, weighing down a crate attached by rope to another Dave’s hair, lifting her in the air.
The Machine questions pushing the limits of the human body, identity in the workplace, anonymity, exploitation, as well as the body as a machine. It also questions who is in charge. The Daves need the audience, and the onus is on everyone to work together, but with linear decisions and actions, they are never truly in control. Every person is literally a cog in the machine. Although participation is compulsory, no one is ever made to do anything embarrassing.
Some may find fault with the often pointless and meaningless tasks, but The Machine is trying to reflect the emptiness of modern life, where we are measured on productivity, rather than individual value. After bursting air filled bags for a few minutes, this might be lost on some, however, as just simply pointless altogether. A few faces certainly read like they don’t know what was happening, or why, throughout the whole show, but overall it’s great fun, no matter how the show is read into. Definitely worth clocking into! 4/5
Review written by Evan Parker.
The Machine is currently showing at The Pit, Barbican until Saturday 8th October. For more information on the production, visit here…