The Fringe presents plenty of opportunities for audiences to pretend to be someone else, but when wearing the shoes of another where would you draw the line? Blast Theory’s A Machine to See With casts you in the lead role of a heist movie, making you confront how far you will go in the name of art, and to what extent an individual can be held responsible for their actions.
From the moment your mobile phone rings with your first instructions, a faceless, nameless figure guides you around Edinburgh, narrating your journey with an epic, cinematic perspective. You form an odd relationship with the voice on the other end of your phone, never quite trusting his motivations and yet submitting to his every instruction. Not that he holds your hand as you go about your mission – in fact, A Machine to See With is quite brave in only taking the audience so far, forcing them to find their own feet or way out of problems so that more than once you feel oddly vulnerable. It’s an unusual sensation in a piece of interactive, digital theatre, but crucial for creating the emotions of the piece and taking ownership of your own destiny.
This type of site-specific work makes you think differently about your surroundings and the people you pass in the street. Suddenly you search for recognition in the face of anyone looking furtive, or indeed lost, on a mobile phone, but unfortunately this is where the experience disappoints. It gradually dawns on you that despite being encouraged to find familiarity or threats in the faces of others, you really are on your own, and again that feeling of isolation creeps in. There are a few, powerful moments of actual interactivity with the city around you when the thrill of the heist movie really comes alive, but with a little less emphasis on going on a guided walking tour and more direct interactive experiences the encounter would be even stronger.
The flexibility of the narrative to respond to events in the real world is essential to the individual’s experience of A Machine to See With. In the main, it was difficult to tell exactly how the audience response directly shaped the progress of the action; however when a spanner was thrown into the works, as must be expected when dallying in the criminal underworld, the drama quickly changed course and the tension was ramped up a gear. As the heist reaches its climax your heart starts to race and you question: are they really expecting me to do this?
A Machine to See With encourages you to confront who you are by playing at being another person entirely, and by the end you may well have surprised yourself at what you are capable of. The journey may be mapped out for you, the scenario thrust upon you, but the thrill is all your own.
Blast Theory’s A Machine to See With runs as part of the British Council Edinburgh Showcase 2011 at St George’s West from 24-28th August.