June 10, 2018

The Atom Room

Last night's world premier of The Atom Room by Philip Braithwaite at Circa Theatre presented a long distance love story with a twist.

It's set in Wellington, 150 years in the future where the city is dealing with the consequences of climate change, distant nuclear accidents and a magnitude 9 earthquake. The opportunity to enjoy a pre-show VR experience by Polytronik Studios is not to be missed. Swooping through the flooded and devastated city before arriving at a virtual Circa theatre was a blast and set the scene for the show.

Sarah, an engineer, and Danny, an environmentalist, meet and fall in love in this now dying Earth where wearing a cyclops-inspired helmet is 'de rigour' for those wishing to avoid radiation poisoning. After Sarah takes the opportunity to go to Mars their relationship is tested and stretched to the limit. For the rest of the play, Sarah and Danny are separated by 225 million km, the machinations of Sarah's boss Margaret and 'the corporations'.

The minimalist set was reminiscent of an early Star Trek holo deck, all black cubes and purple lines with electronic music from NZ musicians Minuit in the background. Full screen images show the devastation on earth until more pleasant images were bought to play when the Atom Room was in use. Large screen images and delayed voices were effective in portraying the challenges of radio communication over long distances.

Eventually, we watched Sarah and Danny meet seemingly in person in 'The Atom Room' where they loved, laughed and fought like most married couples until Margaret's manipulations and the inevitable conflicting priorities took their toll. What seemed to be a boon to the relationship, brought mixed blessings from the initial freezing of Danny's hologram during his proposal, to the unwelcome intrusion of Ad breaks before the eventual shut down because of costs.

The Atom Room is about the challenges and difficulties of a long-distance relationship, and the toll it can take on individuals wherever they are located. This was leavened by regular doses of humour, particularly from Danny with his dressing gown and his 'stand-up comedy' routine. The twist is the futuristic and dystopian setting and its unforgiving environment. Did 'The Atom Room' help the relationship or was it all just an illusion?

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