‘TRUTHMACHINE’ is an interesting experiment that never quite makes good on its promising premise but strongly makes a case for further exploration.
Not knowing what to expect is part of the fun but suffice to say, the audience is sat at a table with machines and asked questions. From this, one of them is selected to undergo a polygraph test and be judged on their honesty by the rest of the audience.
With the interactive element, some of the enjoyment of the show comes down to how engaged one is by it. An inquisitive mind might wonder if some audience members are a plant? Might wonder how much they can affect what happens next by choosing to lie or tell the truth? There are certain truths the piece plays on, our distrust of authority figures, establishment of status, embarrassing ourselves in front of others, our concerns about privacy, our self-doubts and our innate playfulness.
The space is darkly lit with a series of machines that flash different lights based on answers. There is a voiceover giving instructions but also whispering inner thoughts. It has a spooky, unnerving effect and the soundscape also rises to crescendos at pivotal moments. This is highly effective at getting you to concentrate on what is going on and also to be on alert.
The performers too are very precise in their neutrality and provocative questioning which just adds to the mood. Unfortunately, during the performance there were moments when the game was given away and, like a magician’s trick, once you know what is going on the effect loses impact. It is imperative to maintain that mystery and sadly that was not the case on the night.
There is an argument to be made that other elements could be added to aid in the involvement of all, increase disorientation and develop the themes of the piece further. The creators probably made definitive choices on these issues to keep the approach low-key and to avoid audience members becoming too frightened to fully engage.
The fact remains, it should be further developed, there is much to explore about our desire to believe and our instinct to distrust that the creators are tapping into and they have managed to create a particular atmosphere in the show which is exciting to be part of.
‘TRUTHMACHINE’ plays The Glasshouse, Theatre Republic until 21 September.