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Scottish Youth Theatre's new drama production Act of Repair – examining contemporary Cambridge Analytica style data fears in a Black MIrror and Years and Years-style sci-fi story – comes to Eden Court, Inverness

By Kyle Walker

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WHEN we go online, what happens? What becomes of the personal information we share, consciously and subconsciously? What can our personal data say about us?

These questions – thrown into sharp relief by the recent real life events surrounding issues including Cambridge Analytica and Google admitting their devices are constantly listening in on us – are at the heart of Scottish Youth Theatre’s latest production.

Act of Repair – devised, written and brought to life by the 20-strong ensemble of 16 to 25-year-olds under the direction of Brian Ferguson – brings these unsettling questions about the information we so willingly share online to Eden Court on Tuesday evening for a night of near future tech speculation.

And for Sean Gallagher – the Invernessian actor forming part of the ensemble – the production could not have come at a better time.

“The funny thing was that the initial stimulus for my audition and for the show itself was meant to be Brexit,” he explained. “But as we spoke, the more we went through the process, we thought that one, Brexit that’s an issue that’s very widely covered, and we thought, ‘Well, what are we going to add to that?’

“And as we kept talking, we went in a very interesting direction where it felt like a symptom rather than a cause, so we just kept going.

“I’d been calling it an old fashioned barnburner about who you trust just to get people through the door, because they kept asking me what it was about and I’m like, ‘We’re half way through making it! No spoilers, but as soon as I know, I’ll let you know!”

Commuting to and from the Scottish Youth Theatre in Glasgow from his home in Inverness would be a challenge – but the company has been there for Sean. “One of the great things about the programme is that we get bursaries to cover travel and accommodation, and that’s been a massive help for me – especially being the furthest north.”

The worrying thing about people saying our show is a dystopia is that we’re really not that far off.

The commutes have been worth it. The production is now fully-formed – the curtain rises on Act of Repair on Friday night at Glasgow’s Centre for Contemporary Arts – Sean is still keeping the nitty gritties of what the play’s plot is about a closely-guarded secret.

“Act of Repair takes us to a future that could be our own – with a few tweaks here and there,” he teased. “I don’t know how much I am at liberty to release!

“We follow a couple of pressing developments that are already happening, and we just take them to their logical conclusion and then a little bit more.

“There’s a real kind of adventure story underpinning quite a lot of it, so you go on a grand old roaring thrill ride and then once you get settled in with that we roll out the important stuff.”

There’s a certain irony in a show about how much of ourselves we give on data being kept so well-guarded. “I’ve been watching people giving interviews for a long time!” Sean laughed. “I figured I’ve got to thread that Tom Holland-style needle between not actively ruining the play while also saying enough to get people in the door.”

But while the plot of the show might be under wraps, what Act of Repair deals with certainly isn’t – examining this world where everything is connected and companies can mine our data and history for profit.

“We all know it’s a thing, but there’s a difference between knowing something and actually realising what that does,” Sean said. “And we’ve spent a lot of our time going, ‘Oh that’s, ooh, oh I didn’t think about that!’

“And it’s like no, no, we didn’t – and some other people should probably think about this as well!”

Sean Gallagher rehearsing for Act of Repair, coming to Eden Court on Tuesday.
Sean Gallagher rehearsing for Act of Repair, coming to Eden Court on Tuesday.

Playing on such contemporary issues surrounding technology and our relationship with it is in the grand tradition of tech-related dystopias that have popped up in the media landscape of late – most notably Netflix’s Black Mirror and the BBC’s Years and Years.

“They’ve been thrown about a fair bit while we’ve been working on Act of Repair!” Sean laughed. “Years and Years started coming out in process, so we had quite a few moments when we were like, ‘Really? Really, Russell [T Davies, Years and Years creator]? You beat us by, like, weeks!’

“But it shows that it’s there, it’s in the public consciousness. People talk about Black Mirror like it’s so incredibly far away, but a lot of the stuff in Black Mirror is based on real life things – as are some of ours.

“The worrying thing about people saying our show is a dystopia is that we’re really not that far off. Dystopia adds a level of distance that I think makes people more comfortable. But it’s probably a little too comfortable!

“It’s like with horror – it’s bound by the screen but it’s not real. The real danger with constantly watching stuff like Years and Years and Black Mirror and Act of Repair is that people go, ‘Oh, it’s a trend – it’s like vampires a decade ago.’

“No, this is not a trend, this is actively happening, and we are doing our best to keep it at the front of your minds!”

Act of Repair comes to Eden Court, Inverness on Tuesday night. The production begins at 7.30pm and tickets cost £7.50 (£5.50 concession). For more info, go to www.scottishyouththeatre.org

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