THE EXTINCTION PARADOX
BATS Theatre, The Dome, 1 Kent Tce, Wellington
11/02/2020 - 15/02/2020
5 humans. 3 futures. 1 chance to save us from ourselves.
The Extinction Paradox is now upon us. Can an accidental assembly of acquaintances prove humanity are capable of protecting Earth? They will have
to, or the opportunity will be taken from us. Forced to navigate through simulations of three different futures, they face challenges including climate change, ethical conflicts of humanity’s own creation, challenges on who to trust, their own conflicting ethics and humanity’s will and ability to change. It’s up to this rag-tag team of misfits from Earth to demonstrate that humanity will stride through the challenges of today and future ages!
In the style of Black Mirror but on stage, spiked with humour and higher, more directly dire stakes than ever, this thrilling adventure dares to ask and explore the difficult question: what do we/should we do now to fix the world?
Are we, the human species, the disease that’s better polished off for the planet to survive?
Pay $30 to see two of the following shows:
–Dance me to the end (Audience ticket)
–The Extinction Paradox
–STUPID BITCH Wants a puppy
BATS Theatre, The Heyday Dome
11 – 15 February 2020
Full Price $20
Group 6+ $17
Concession Price $15
*Access to The Heyday Dome is via stairs, so please contact the BATS Box Office at least 24 hours in advance if you have accessibility requirements so that appropriate arrangements can be made. Read more about accessibility at BATS.
Devised love letter to sci-fi stories past subverted by multiple perspectives
Review by Emilie Hope 12th Feb 2020
As part of the Six Degrees Festival on at BATS, Max Nunes-Cesar makes his directorial debut with The Extinction Paradox. My understanding is he created the concept and structure and developed it through a devising process with the cast.
Five human strangers are abducted by three aliens and forced to undergo tests via simulations to decide the fate of humanity: should the Federation of United Celestial Republics completely eliminate humans from planet Earth?
The five humans assembled to be representatives of our race are twenty-somethings, predominantly white and largely male. The show cleverly addresses this when one of the test subjects cries, “We’re not even the most diverse representations of our race!” and the audience has to chuckle. BOB (Cameron Gordon), new to the job, admits this may have been one of the mistakes he was worried he had made.
So, who’s going to save us? Eager rule-following blokey lad Jack (Troy Etherington); Owen (Solomon Archer), an obnoxious yo-pro who believes the abduction is a post office party prank from his co-workers; Ellie (Rebecca Bonner), an arrogant rich girl who’s unemployed – no, sorry, she’s a writer, basically the same thing, right? (for those like me who are writers, ouch!); Aggie (Aishani Pole), a seemingly constantly high, council gardener; and Marco (Sam MacKay), a convicted felon.
My heart sinks. Our chances are looking… great? They will have to convince Commander Four Two Oh (Pippa Liley-Dru) who seems to get sadistic enjoyment out of watching them struggle and on occasion fail, flanked by the nervous but intelligent newbie BOB and overtly optimistic Chizol *click* Ol (Richard Rhys Christy-Jones). BOB and Chizol *click* Ol have both done the simulations in the past and managed to succeed, saving their alien races.
Each of the simulations test the motley crew but the question of whether or not they pass each one can be debated at length. The first simulation is about saving the humans remaining on Earth by giving them life-saving sustainable technologies while wealthy humans populate Mars. The second revolves around the ethics of incredibly intelligent and emotive A.I.. And the third lies in the dichotomy of living in a virtual utopia while in reality the world has died. As Commander Four Two Oh points out, humans only seem “to care about people they know,” so would a more altruistic stance help the humans pass?
The Extinction Paradox is a love letter to sci-fi stories gone before, to television shows such as Black Mirror, The Good Place, films like The Matrix, and even books like Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. However, I feel as though Nunes-Cesar has bitten off more than he can chew by taking an issue as large as climate change and not giving it enough space within the 90 minute confines of the show. Each simulation only just starts to dig into an issue and challenge it when it’s cut off, and the audience has to readjust and then dive into the next simulation. Each simulation could be a 90 minute play in and of itself.
Likewise, the character arcs are inconsistent amongst the characters. The character who changes the most is probably Ellie; selfish to selfless: a rather simple transition. Aggie stays relatively the same, remaining a calm maternal glue for the group. Jack potentially only grows more confidently optimistic and Owen says he has “problems” but we never find out what those problems are. And Marco… Well, let’s just say it is interesting that most of the time the prison inmate is the only one who makes any sense and the only one I agree with. Because of this, he is probably the character I connect to the most, and therefore when he says “I’ve made a lot of mistakes in my life, but this [the simulations]… This I did right,” I agree with him. I understand then that for him, these simulations are a way to challenge himself and see if he can become a better person. And he is.
In wanting to have multiple perspectives within the show, Nunes-Cesar loses his directorial vision to a show that lacks polish. As it states in the director’s note, Nunes-Cesar loves theatre for the way it connects the audience in a more immediate way, yet the way the actors stand on stage make it seem as though we are not there at all. This makes it awkward and confusing when the virtual reality simulation casts us as a studio audience who need to applaud the characters for their good deeds for humankind.
The set, designed by Jamie Wallace-Thexton, is intriguing at first. A long white cloth drapes like a basinet curtain with chairs edging it on stage, but it is underutilised as a place for the actors to return to before and after each simulation. Sound designer Flinn Gendall has a cornucopia of weird and wonderful sounds to create the alien atmosphere, however they are inconsistent. They enter in moments of tension or sudden action, therefore aurally indicating to the audience that something is going to happen and soon it becomes predictable. A soundscape travelling through the entirety of the show would have given more cohesion to The Extinction Paradox. Lighting designer Devon Nuku makes simple and effective choices, if playing a bit safe with the general washes.
The simple beige convict-style overalls for the humans with tailoring to each actor are a great choice by designer Mandy Eeva Watkins, keeping them neutral. However the more elaborate costumes for the alien characters seem like just that: costumes. Blue cotton capes edged with blue silk ribbon, and oversized shoulders with gold square pyramids glued to them do not look expensive under the theatre lights. When the characters wear more natural costumes in the simulations, this gives me a better understanding of the simulation world. Sometimes simple is better.
Similarly, some of the props are largely made out of cardboard, which goes against the technologically advanced future the show is presenting. Perhaps metal may have been a better option, or wood, rather than imitating these materials. I also question how much waste will come out of a show that is meant to reflect the urgency of our climate crisis, theatre being a notoriously wasteful industry.
The actors themselves win me over with their energy. They give their performances their absolute all. Etherington needs a special mention for ravenously eating kidney beans out of a can – even when a bean falls on the floor, wiping up the spilled brine with his own black singlet – as well as dancing like he has no limbs, later on. This silliness tickles my funny bone. Liley-Dru is a delight to watch in the simulations when she isn’t being devilish Commander Four Two Oh, particularly as Jane Doe, a scruffy homeless woman.
The Extinction Paradox is an ambitious show. Having the term ‘paradox’ in the title makes me not want to have a happy ending. I want them to fail the first two simulations. This would have deepened the fear of loss and propelled the audience to seek action. However the final message of the show is a hopeful “stick together, work hard, and stay positive”, but it’s too idealistic. When presenting on the topic of climate change, it’s so depressing and exhausting that we really want to leave with something practical do follow through with. The show seems to want to make us think about our future in terms of the planet, A.I.., and virtual realities, but in the process it leaves us thinking about none of them. In future, delving into one topic full-hog may be a more impactful way to go.
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