WHAT makes novels such as 1984 and Brave New Worldso troubling is that you could imagine their plots happening for real. Wouldn’t we all be comforted by having an avuncular Big Brother in our lives? Which of us wouldn’t sign up to a soma holiday in a unified World State? It’s the same with the autocratic Dr Broderick Mackenzie in Catherine Wheels’ superb promenade performance: he’s scary because he is so reasonable.
Played by Ian Cameron, he’s a man you’d be happy to entrust your children to. With his extravagant hair and flamboyant neckerchief, he has a touch of the Willy Wonkas, but mainly, he projects a sense of reassurance. That’s why we willingly follow him into his Mackenzie Institute for the Encouragement of Vocal Harmony, despite having to put on masks and subject ourselves to the decontamination chambers of Karen Tennent’s endlessly inventive set.
It’s also why we go along with him as he describes his scientific method for removing unpleasant sounds from little girls’ voices. We sympathise with him for having oversensitive hearing and admire his laboratory technique for extracting just the right noise. Indeed, we’re quite a long way into Gill Robertson’s production before his daughter Beatrice (an excellent Jenny Hulse) finds the radical voice to tell us something is amiss. The man whose favourite record is the soundtrack to My Fair Lady is a kind of psychopathic Henry Higgins.
But this is no abstract dystopian fantasy. Scripted by Robert Alan Evans, The Voice Thief is a deeply felt cry of outrage at the injustice of female voices being silenced, emotions repressed and personalities muted. Going beyond the production’s sci-fi fun, Beatrice takes a revolutionary step towards emancipation, making it everything a piece of theatre should be: not just funny, tense and alarming, but politically engaged, angry and inspirational.