‘Parasocial Parallex’ // Anywhere Festival

‘Parasocial Parallax’ was addictive.

Andrew Gillanders and the creative team behind ‘Parasocial Parallax’ have driven headfirst into a new age of theatre. ‘Immersive theatre’ is taking Australia by storm whereby audiences are involved in the lives of the characters and asked to choose their fate. Typically, the word “immersive” sends many theatregoers scurrying for the hills, evoking fears of uncomfortable encounters and unwanted attention. The template for traditional theatre is essentially the same as that of cinema – to sit down and watch from a safe distance. ‘Parasocial Parallax’ transcends what is typical of the theatrical practice and the perception of the medium itself by bringing about a new form of immersive “reality theatre”.

Presented as part of Anywhere Theatre Festival at The Cave Inn, ‘Parasocial Parallax’ tests the boundaries of social media, immersive technology, family connection, and feminine power. By combining the glamour of ‘Keeping Up with the Kardashians’ with the psychological torment and technological uprising of ‘Black Mirror’, this performance is an alarming prediction of the future of online media engagement.

Devised by writers Stanley Benjamin, Andrew Gillanders, Rory Hawkins and Jamie Stevens, the show brings millennial addiction and love of social media to the stage, fabricating a challenging yet engaging choose-your-own-adventure in which the audience votes with either their head or heart. At the centre of this performance, audiences are confronted with the newly invasive, and alienating influence of social media and immersive digital technologies.

This chilling production follows Mackenzie Smith, a social media influencer and active live-streamer as she navigates the challenges of parenthood, marriage, family, and her career. After undergoing surgery to receive the experimental “Neuralink” implant, Mackenzie and her family become a main part of the 24-hour media cycle. Audiences are invited to watch, comment, and vote as Mack deals with fame, fortune, and private family matters. With each audience vote, the characters and plotlines are pulled in different directions. So, every show is unique!

I imagine writing six different endings for a play, as well as writing different options for whatever the audience voted on, would have been an incredibly time-consuming, daunting, and challenging task. But the team have #crushedit.

Director Grace Longwill used the stage skilfully, utilising the natural architecture of The Cave Inn. By incorporating the grand stairs, the foyer, and the dining settings of the restaurant, the performance was natural and dynamic for the space. Longwell’s use of stage props and technical features, including the continuous audience live stream, perfectly encapsulated the invasiveness and addictiveness of social media. I found myself constantly looking back and forth between the live stream and actors, checking to make sure I looked presentable on camera. This technical aspect was highly effective in emphasising the message of the performance. This impressive production is a testament to Longwill’s direction of both the cast and the creative team.

The cast’s performances in ‘Parasocial Parallax’ were compelling and lively. Eliza Allen, as Mackenzie Smith, delivered a multi-dimensional woman and intelligently portrayed the different sides of the character when the script required. Alec Hastie, as Jordan Smith, played a passionate role throughout the play and aided the dramatic plot. Wayne Bassett rounded out the performance as William, Mack’s father. Bassett was skillful in his ability to make the audience both empathise and dislike his character. Together, the cast portrayed powerful and memorable characters.

The plot of the 30-minute performance was full of meaning and endless possibilities that made for a challenge to unpack. With each performance, ‘Parasocial Parallax’ does not give the audience closure, but rather encourages conversations about social media engagement and family values.

‘Parasocial Parallax’ was a very thought-provoking and addictive piece of modern theatre. I encourage everyone to attend multiple shows and vote for the many different plotlines.

‘Parasocial Parallax’ performs until May 21 at the Cave Inn, Woolloongabba. For more information visit the Anywhere Festival website.

Photos by Adam Dobson.

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