Basement Theatre Studio, Lower Greys Ave, Auckland

14/08/2012 - 18/08/2012

Production Details

Theatre of Love presents a Sci Fi mystery thriller 10 years in development, Free Load by Grae Burton (Coffee with Eelco, Era and the Kaitiaki) as part of Theatre of Love’s Season of Obsession.   

Commissioned in 2002 to create a highly physical show that explored the theme of ‘soul sistership’ Grae Burton had the spark for Free Load.  Set in a not so distant future 2055, where the boundaries between reality and virtual existence are blurred Free Load explores our futuristic consciousness through technological advancement. 

After the untimely death of her sister Epinine, (Emanuelle Bains, The Sleepover Club, Yo Future) recluse Jeanie(Alisha Lawrie Paul, Little Histories of The Life Ordinary) develops an obsession with the latest software she has developed, Free Load, a virtual program with artificial intuition. When Jeanie herself dies bizarrely, it is up to Jeanie’s spurned partner Mark (Matt Baker, The Sex Show, Suburban Murder) to discover Free Load’s dark secrets. Down the virtual rabbit hole he goes.  

Created intentionally in a non-linear narrative Free Load’s real and virtual locations intertwine, like viewing multiple open files on a computer, the show takes the audience into different levels of  hyper-reality as Mark experiences MESSENGER (Jason Hodzelmans Titus, The Dinner Party) offspring of the iphone’s Siri and interactive virtual servant, and attempts to piece together what happened to Jeanie.  

Grae Burton started to develop Free Load with the support of Creative New Zealand and Playmarket. Free Load has been reworkshopped, reconceptualised and reloaded for a brand new Auckland experience produced by Theatre of Love and directed by Jane Yonge (Ngaire and Naureen Prisontime Special, Noises Off).

Inspired by Pinocchio, Frankenstein and 2001 A Space Odyssey Free Load is a story of epic scale about sisterhood, the hazards of humanity’s growing relationship with virtual spaces and the individual’s right to choose to live or die.

‘A dramatic, electric and thrilling story… an exciting, intelligent, powerful and unreal piece of future shocking theatre.’    – Matt Bowler, Fairfax Media 

Free Load will be performed at
The Basement Studio, Greys Avenue Auckland,
14-18 August, 2012, 7pm.
Tickets at The Basement Box Office, (09) 361 1000 or

Sci Fi take on illusion, creation, responsibility and what it is to be human

Review by Candice Lewis 15th Aug 2012

The scene is intriguingly set (Grae Burton is the playwright and set designer). Opaque screens drop from ceiling to floor creating a feeling of sterility and containment. The screens play back images, and from the start we see the inflated projection of Mark’s head (Matt Baker).

I didn’t read anything about Freeload before going in. I like surprises. I’m enjoying this added weight of mystery; Jeanie (Alisha Lawrie Paul) is a young woman expressing anguish and yet also appears to be commanding her whole environment. She has a relationship with Mark that starts in a virtual world; they are both programmers losing distinction for what is ‘real’ and what is not.

At times the actors’ use of lip synching to their own pre-recorded voices provides an extremely disconcerting effect; a feeling of distance from being human. Director Jane Yonge has also done well with the more subtle movements and repetitions the actors display, the slight hand gesture that shuts down a programme /person, the dance like movement throughout the whole piece reflecting the characters’ repetitious regret: “why didn’t we dance?”

The start of the play is a little stiff, but as the mystery unravels, so do the opening night nerves. Like much good Sci Fi, this play forces the viewer to consider notions of illusion, creation, responsibility and what it is to be human.

Jeanie (you’ll have Bowie’s song stuck in your head all night) and Mark are flapping around, searching for meaning, expressing some good old fashioned angst, and in contrast they are continually presided over and assisted by the wonderfully cold Messenger (Jason Hodzelmans).

Hodzelmans has perfected the benign calm of robotic servant/guru.  Messenger is part of the created virtual world that we’re watching unfold, as if we have somehow stumbled upon a programme that’s showing us the secret to our own existence. We’re all a pattern. We’re all programmed. Aren’t we?

Jeanie’s story includes her (virtual, recreated) little sister, the one who likes Pooh Bear (I’d like to burn that thing by the end of the show). There’s a twist of course, but I’m not going to give that away. Sometimes I’m reminded of that spooky feeling from old Sci Fi programme Sapphire and Steel (on too late, go to bed!) or the creeping terror the opening music from Doctor Who would instil in me as a child.

The acting is too inflated at times and might benefit from a lighter touch, and there isn’t any romantic chemistry between Alisha’s Jeanie and Matt’s Mark, but these are minor glitches that are easily resolved (just pretend it’s that person you really fancy). Sister Epinine sparkles with the manic intensity of a new born Christian as she clings to Pooh Bear and pontificates in her perfect English accent. It’s like having a little bit of Keira Knightly, but one who can act.

Costumes (Poppy Mansell) are ill fitting, but this suits the feeling of the play. The young women are wearing dresses that make you think of mental hospitals or the $10 rack in a chain store sale. Mark is all tucked in and computer tech conservative, Messenger gets to rock an all white tux style outfit reinforcing the guru vibe, and the all-seeing eyes of V-Tal (the boss) are dressed only with the calm voice of Paul Bains.

This is a thoroughly engaging play, like seeing an old episode of Doctor Who come to life. Much of this creepy atmosphere is achieved due to a level of attention to lighting (Sam Mence), sound (Andrew Hird) and overall production (James Wenley). The way that Messenger was lit from below as he stood behind one of the screens, or the amount of attention and precision involved in getting the sound in sync, really pays off.

Sure, it’s blatantly in keeping with Sci Fi that’s gone before, but if this is a genre you enjoy (which I do) then all that matters is that it’s well done and keeps you guessing. Download complete. 


Matt Baker August 15th, 2012

Correction: The projection at the beginning of the play is not Mark's head, but Messenger's.

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