Society has collapsed from disease, violence and financial ruin. From this situation, emerge the Architects. Guided by their arcane manipulations, earth’s remaining people have found five Prospects—candidates for the World’s new leader. Through engagement with each other and the Prospects, an online audience will elect our figurehead and decide the shape of our future. The Complex is an interactive, digital theatre experience presented at this year’s Next Stage Festival.
Accessed through Zoom, you can choose one of two engagement styles for the experience. In The Chamber, you will not be heard, seen or interact directly with the Prospects, but oversee their movements and make your opinions known through polling. In The Community, via web-cam and mic, you will be more exposed, but also have greater access to the Prospects.
I chose The Chamber experience. I felt a little creepy at first, comfortably hidden from view as I pass judgement from a distance, but quickly warmed to the experience through the chat feature. Interaction is the most compelling aspect.
Creators Chantal Forde (Playwright), Jessie Fraser (Digital Designer) and Mandy Roveda (Director) have a great structure in place here. The technical elements evoke a sense of intrigue and play, though few of the story elements pay-off well. There are some heartfelt testimonials, a vague potential scandal that fizzles out and the briefest hint at potential alliances.
Our guide through the process—Steve Hobbs’ The Keeper—can be cringey with his interjections, but he’s got a warm, jocular charm that feels very game-show host. The actors portraying the Prospects—Tsholo Khalema, Franny McCabe-Bennett, Terry Tweed, Duncan Derry and Tiffany Martin—convey distinct and diverse personalities we can invest in.
The piece effectively captures the trite rhetoric of political positioning. We get a passionate though slightly paranoid radical, an even-tempered moderate, a hurt avenger, a dour activist, and a smarmy, cloying smooth-talker. They function less as fully realized political figures than as avatars for our current concerns.
Though we get a sense of their core beliefs—from the environment and equal representation to community building and radical activism—we don’t learn much about policy or actionable specifics. They give us personality, attitude and some emotional anecdotes.
Given the concept and the heightened stakes, a longer and more detailed experience is required to make this work as well as it could. I wanted the opportunity to hear from more people, both Prospects and Community members. I wanted to delve deeper into the lore of this collapsed world and underlying intentions of the Architects who have set this process in motion.
The experience has the potential to foster intense group dynamics, encourage critical thinking and be a thrilling interactive satire of politics and social structures, but it is too short and doesn’t dig deep enough. The Complex has a strong concept and is definitely entertaining, despite some minor disruptive technical glitches.