PNOC. io is a digital interactive theatre experience presented by Chronic Insanity at Camden People’s Theatre. Upon entering this video, I can’t help but wonder what the official definition of theatre is, after so much change to the form over recent years. In case you were also wondering, the Cambridge Dictionary states that theatre can be defined as simply ‘a place from which people can watch a performance or other activity.’
This is not my first theatre experience online, as I’m sure it’s not for many of us theatregoers over the past eighteen months, but it is my first fully digitally interactive one, and it is certainly different from simply watching a play online.
PNOC. io is described as an adaptation of Pinocchio for the internet age, using the story to reflect on how tech companies have the power and technology to manipulate us. Perhaps I am asking too much, but unfortunately, I’m struggling to be absorbed from the start by the sequence of graphics that give the impression of travelling through time and technology, and although we are soon greeted by a human character, the dialogue continues to be very technical and hard to follow.
The piece centres around ‘Stromboli’ – a new internet company that asks the audience – us – to interact and make decisions based on what questions it asks. We are welcomed into the first interactive room by the character of Kyle Palmer, played by Jack Mathew Henderson, who is nicely cast, and I have to say, Henderson marks the beginning of a line-up of talented actors in this piece, whose performances I thoroughly enjoy. Henderson has wonderful energy and knows how to raise the stakes brilliantly. The voice of PNOC, played by Joe Strickland is impressively robotic, yet with an edge of humanity subtly added when revelations are exposed, which works well. I also enjoy Miles Kinsley’s performance as the excitable Dr Tindall, with his persuasive and refined manner.
I really love this idea of using theatre to explore the truth behind technology and tech bosses as this is something that I’ve researched myself for my own interests, so maybe my expectations are already too high. I am desperate to see work that shocks its audiences and wakes people up to the real, genuine dangers of technology which, for me, this piece just doesn’t do.
The irony is that whilst this piece is trying to educate its audiences, raising awareness about the questionable ethics and manipulation of technology companies, I am finding the interactive side a little intimidating, which is great for the piece in terms of making a point. Indeed, because this is a new digital experience for me, I can’t help but feel suspicious when the PNOC character asks me to answer real questions about myself, and I find myself choosing answers that are the opposite of what I feel, so that I am not giving away real data – which just shows that whilst I am struggling to connect emotionally with the piece, it certainly is effective.
I like the fact that this piece questions the line between humanity and artificial intelligence, the company of actors are brave to produce this piece and I applaud them for a great effort and choice of subject matter. But for me this piece unfortunately doesn’t quite work in its current form in terms of offering us some brilliant storytelling. But then this is the newest form of theatre around, and it’s probably me who needs to get with the programme.
PNOC. Io is available through the Camden People’s Theatre until 6 August 2021. For more information and tickets, see Camden People’s Theatre’s website.