Sub-Con Warrior

(Zen Zen Zo)


Professional production

Composers: Tyrone Noonan, Jeremy Neideck

This production creates a vivid world for an avid gamer. An innovative use of space, multi-media and virtual fiction provide a challenging and exciting experience. Zen Zen Zo present raw energy performances with reflexive emotional content. Founded in 1992, the company has strong roots in Japanese performing arts, and an earnest driving spirit.

We were welcomed into the theatre by geeks who registered us and got us ready to play, and we all waited in suspense for the almighty gameMaster (Rob Thwaites) to start up our game. Right from the start the lines between the real and the virtual were blurred, which lent a powerful dramatic edge to how one engaged with the cyberspace theme.

This was our mission, as briefed by the gameMaster: a child, Andi (Aideen McCartney), is spending too much time in the arcade; we learnt that one can only spend so long in the sub-con before they will remain there forever – immersion. So we had to follow the quest through the cyber-world to rescue her from the clutches of the Big Boss (Steven Mitchell Wright), whose gaming world seems to her more exciting than fair-and-square reality. We also learnt it wouldn’t be possible to retrieve the child by coercion as she wished to remain forever.

The first level instantly reminded me of the humble Game-Boy. The landscape was made of fluoro colours and 8-bit sounds. Zen Zen Zo have made substance of the virtual, so that as the audience entered the sub-con, they could physically engage in the world of Mario and Mortal Combat. These traditional games have simple and seemingly noble objectives: rescue the princess, defend earth and humanity from alien settlers etc. It seemed that the objective would quickly become shaped by the way the participants played the game, and it all became a little more odd-world.

The audience was immersed in the action promenade (bush-walking) style, and interacted with this ‘virtual’ world fighting off zombies and solving puzzles. Landscape changes and stories were revealed within the space and architecture, but only for as long as we were present there. The artificial was blurred with what we know about reality, inviting imagination and semiotics to engage the audience in the drama.

There was no chance of a numb bum, as I was literally on my toes right through. Tension and flow were well are maintained, and as the play/game concluded a tiny LED bulb in my head switched ON, and I exited the sub-con with Andi and a bunch of fictional characters etched onto my conscience. It was just a game…

The characters of the sub-con were programmed and performed like frantic flash cartoons. They were eccentric and extraordinary, and very believable as gaming characters go. They guided the drama with finesse and skill, and maintained a consistent and inviting energy on the trek. Praise to leading actors Katrina Cornwell, Chenoeh Miller, Peta Ward and Noa Rotem for sustaining a martial promenade.

Sub-Con Warrior 1 sheds light on our impulses as gamers, and the actions we make for an overall outcome. An audience member, on TV unaware, gets trigger-happy with a gun point-blank to attain a clue for our mission. It seems that although the parameters for play within are pre-set, most rules can still be twisted and are subjective according to vested interests.

Clearly our level of interaction in the theatrical Sub-Con is privy to the narrative content as planned. Through interaction we are involved in controlling the meaning of the sub-con story, which creates a very special dynamic as far as audience involvement goes. One who delves into the subconscious must prepare to greet their truth. Within the gaming paradigm, it occurs to me, the sub-context is not limited within the theatrical path we journey on, but self-contained and resounding according to the emotional connection/involvement of an individual player; the positioning of the moral high-ground seemed to shift around like the landscape.

As an audience member I felt rather challenged and a little misled, but as a gamer I was thoroughly entertained, and ready to save and quit. This show was full on.

Directed by Lynne Bradley and Steven Mitchell Wright

Composed by Tyrone Noonan and Jeremy Neideck

Played 13th – 29th July 2006

Duration: 100 minutes, no interval

— Simeon Bonetti
(Performance seen: Fri 28th July 2006)