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Monday, May 17, 2021

Bringing sci-fi to Civic Playhouse stage

Elliot Leeds is dead. Or is he?

This is the question at the centre of the science fiction play, Two Point Oh, which opens at the Civic Playhouse Newcastle later this month.

It will finally open on Wednesday 21 April and continue nightly until Saturday 24 April at 8pm, with a 2pm matinee session on 24 April, too.

American playwright Jeffrey Jackson’s original work was first produced in the US 10 years ago and local theatre company, Knock and Run Theatre, is bringing it to Australia for the first time.

Newcastle audiences will be confronted by the potential moral dilemmas of launching head-first into the social media-led rabbit hole we all seem to be freely embracing post-COVID and challenged to consider where this technological reliance may lead our collective future.

Director and producer James Chapman says Two Point Oh is hands-down the most ambitious play the company has tackled.

“In this masterful sci-fi work, the main character, Elliot Leeds, never actually appears on stage,” he explains.

“Elliot performs in real time, but he is in a room off stage and the other actors and audience only see him displayed on screens at the rear of the set.

“It’s a tremendous technical and performative challenge and certainly something different for local audiences.

“I don’t think a sci-fi play has ever been staged in Newcastle and I definitely can’t recall a play incorporating this level of technology.

“It’s easily the most ambitious thing we’ve attempted – it feels like the past six years of our company’s evolution has been leading to this.”

Tim Turner, Claire Williams and Ben Louttit in Two Point Oh.

The reason the main character never appears on stage is because, at the start of the play, Elliott Leeds dies in a plane crash. Or does he?

A technological genius, before his demise, he created a perfect digital recreation of himself, which is soon introduced to the story, as he reappears on screen as a digital version of himself.

“Elliot essentially brings himself back from the dead and the story which unfolds, deals with the moral and legal fallout of his actions, posing a host of questions in our post-Covid world,” Chapman says.

“The other characters have their own opinions on whether or not ‘Elliot 2.0’ is really Elliot, back from the dead, or just a fancy app, and the audience is left asking the same question.

“Our hope is, they leave the theatre seriously thinking about the role technology will play in the years to come.

“We’re not far off from some billionaire uploading his brain onto a server somewhere and, when that happens, we’ll have to rethink how we look at life and death.

“The audience members for Two Point Oh will have to consider this hypothetical future and wrestle with the potential moral problems it will bring.

“From a production perspective, the main challenge Two Point Oh poses is, how do you present a show when the main character never steps on stage or physically interacts with the other actors?

“We need to project the actor on screens, and we can’t have any delay between the audio and video.

“It’s a performative challenge for the actors to deliver compelling scenes with another actor who technically isn’t there.

“Fortunately, our stellar cast is more than up to the challenge.

“Elliot Leeds is Mark Zuckerberg, Steve Jobs and Elon Musk all rolled into one and, in this production, is brought (back) to life by Ben Louttit.

“Ben is such a meticulous, hardworking actor, he has committed 100% to the concept of performing to camera in a totally different space to the rest of the cast.

“Those left to ponder questions about the morality of Elliot’s return include his grieving widow, Melanie Leeds, portrayed by Bec Kynaston.

“Well-known for her prowess in local musical theatre, this is Bec’s first foray into a dramatic work.

“From when we met five years ago, Bec and I have been talking about getting her into a Knock and Run production and I’m delighted it’s finally happened with this seminal work.”

Tim Turner plays Ben Robbins, Elliot’s former best friend and co-founder of their tech conglomerate, Paradigm Technologies.

He is convinced Elliot 2.0 is nothing more than a program and Melanie’s growing attachment to it will only end badly.

“Ben is arguably the character who goes on the biggest journey and Tim delivers his ‘realness’ at every turn,” Chapman said.

“Rounding out the cast are veteran performers Claire Williams and Patrick Campbell.

“Claire’s the Newcastle Theatre Company president and a performer with a remarkable track record.

“I’ve wanted to work with her for years and she is brilliant as Paradigm’s no-nonsense chief of communications, Catherine Powell, who is tapped to replace Elliot as CEO after his death.

“Campbell plays Jerry Gold, a political commentator in the vein of Andrew Bolt, Alan Jones and Tucker Carlson.

“He was my high school drama teacher and watching him work with Jerry Gold is a dream.”

Two Point Oh was set to open in August but was postponed due to audience restrictions following the COVID-19 lockdown.

Bookings can be made through the Civic Theatre ticket office: civictheatrenewcastle.com.au or 4929 1977.

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