Foreign Radical

Theatre Conspiracy’s interactive show, Foreign Radical, is more than likely to mess with your moral compass. We, the audience, are ultimately responsible for determining if a man is or is not a potential terrorist threat, with our own beliefs, actions and loyalties scrutinised, thus altering what information we are privy to and what scenarios we get to witness. This definitely makes for a unique experience but time and space restrictions result in a show that feels cut short too soon, just as we’re starting to delve deep.

An ambitious piece that forces you to ask many uncomfortable questions

We are instantly presented with a naked man of Middle Eastern descent, forced to stand with his hands on a desk and completely submissive to us and the all-seeing CCTV camera. After much suitably uncomfortable silence, sentences in Arabic and Farsi are projected on the walls, we’re then given instructions in English directing us to the next room if we didn’t understand the original text. It’s a cleverly manipulative technique to make us aware of the extent of racial profiling going on, not just in the show, but in the real world as well, where even knowledge is suspicious. Add in all the design elements (sound, lighting, video and set) and you have and incredibly uncomfortable atmosphere, reminiscent of dramas such as 24 and Homeland, putting us on-edge and suspicious of everyone.

After some unconventional getting-to-know you games, we’re separated into different groups, with different tasks to do, depending on how ‘paranoid, suspicious or radical’ we are (whatever that means to the powers that be). It proves to be an enlightening experience in which we find ourselves sharing more than we may have expected. This is compounded by the fact that we then are charged with determining if the aforementioned naked man is a terrorist threat or not with limited and crucially conflicting intelligence.

This is the point at which the dramaturgy and game mechanics slightly fall apart. In the context of a predominantly liberal arts festival, the audience is largely biased towards presuming innocence rather than guilt and the lack of context or understanding of the threat he poses means there’s less at stake for us as decision-makers. It’s also a no-win situation that’s been set up: if we’re correct in his innocence then we can pat ourselves on the back for being so liberal and tolerant but if he does turn out to be a terrorist then is the piece condoning invasive mass-surveillance? It’s a dramaturgical and ethical issue that is not easy to resolve in just 75 minutes.

Overall Foreign Radical is an ambitious piece that forces you to ask many uncomfortable questions but is, at points, a victim of its own ambition.

Reviews by Liam Rees

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Performances

Location

The Blurb

Thirty participants are invited into an intriguing theatrical game exploring security, profiling, privacy and freedom of expression in the age of cybersurveillance. Mobile throughout the performance, the participants collaborate, compete, investigate, debate and spy on each other. Depending on personal and group responses, participants witness different perspectives on the action, gathering evidence from dramatic scenes and documentary media that colour their views and how they play the game. Farsi, Arabic, English. ‘I spent more time thinking about this show than any other in 2015. There’s a reason it won the Critics’ Choice Innovation Award’ (Mark Robins, VancouverPresents.com).

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