‘Parasocial Parallax’ was interactive.
Hidden amongst the many cafes and restaurants on Park Rd at Milton, I visited Pip Theatre for their current production, Parasocial Parallax. While upstairs, Pip Theatre does have a lift for accessibility.
Entering the theatre, you’re greeted by Mackenzie’s mid-Instagram live stream. The audience is encouraged to join the live stream, interacting with Mackenzie through the live Q&A. Audience interaction continues throughout the performance; Parasocial Parallax is an interactive text. In a choose your own adventure style story, the narrative is guided by audience votes. At each junction, the audience is asked by the Squip-like Neurolink narrator to vote blue for logos, a rational and logical choice, or pink for pathos, for the emotionally charged option. Don’t like the path taken? Never fear Parasocial Parallax take the audience through three cycles. In a Groundhog Day-style loop, you are given the option to go through the sliding doors to alternate endings.
Parasocial Parallax is set in an all-too-plausible near future; akin to Black Mirror, it uses sci-fi technology to explore current societal themes. At a glance, I’m reminded of Be More Chill by the imposing invasive technology and loss of agency of the human counterpart, rather than a narrative written to resolve Parasocial Parallax hands over agency to the audience, asking questions, provoking discussion and reflection on social media, artificial intelligence, and relationships. Written by Andrew Gillanders, Stanley Benjamin, Jamie Stevens, and Rory Hawkins, they explore human connection and our invested relationship with technology in specific social media.
Eliza Allen’s portrayal of Mackenzie is lively and dynamic, and she holds the stage with confidence. She shines onstage, and not just because of the mirror ball inspired outfit or glittering Neurolink. Her counterpart, Tahlia Downs, as The Narrator, brings a strong, stoic presence to the cast, interjecting with witty barbs throughout the action.
Jade Clarke appeared as Jordan, Mackenzie’s wife, and gave a passionate plea to the audience, breaking the fourth wall; frequently distracting me from her performance was the lack of attention to detail regarding her costuming.
Costuming can be a difficult thing to budget for, but when the script mentions a $400 suit, an ill-fitted vest can be, unfortunately, distracting from a performance. Wayne Basset brings to life a quirky and wry William, Mackenzie’s father. His performance was occasionally overshadowed by the trio of strong women surrounding him.
The director, Grace Longwill, had a challenging task. With multiple narrative routes to rehearse, ensuring the pacing is there is quite difficult, and this showed at times. There were some fabulous attempts to integrate technology into the production, the aforementioned live stream, in addition to live camera projections.
However, I would have loved to see an innovative use of technology; I wonder if rather than kinaesthetic totems to vote, a live poll could have been used? Grace describes the audience as the fifth cast member of the show and directs it as such; the interactive moments are frequent and centred around audience involvement.
Laura Charlotte’s lighting design supported the transition between the audience lenses. Whether the audience was viewing the live stream in crisp white light or was suspended in time through the Neurolink’s panopticon-style surveillance of the situation, resulting in an analogous colour banding, the lighting supported the narrative.
As is common with many immersive theatre performances, a lot is going on, and no two viewings of the show are the same. From audience votes steering the narrative to seated proximity to the narrator and her witty side comments and discussions at the table regarding the table’s vote; you could see the show six times and arrive at a different conclusion each time. I can’t help but wonder what alternate storylines I didn’t see? Perhaps I’ll have to go back before the 11th of November to find out.
‘Parasocial Parallax’ performs until 11th November 2023 at PIP Theatre, Milton. For more visit their website.
Photos by Ben Rawson (@comewatchben)