147: Thieves Like Us

15 Aug

Today’s play is unpublished and I only knew to ask for it because I’d read a draft a few years back at Varuna in the beautiful Blue Mountains. Fortunately I still had contact details for Marcel Dorney and he was willing to email me the latest version. (Thanks Marcel!)

binary code

Thieves Like Us was originally commissioned by La Boite Theatre but, sadly, never produced by them. It came to life in Merrigong in 2008 and, so far, is unpublished. It’s a cracker of a play and I’m really surprised that it hasn’t been scooped up for production and publication.

Once again, Dorney’s intellect shines through in the writing and the depth of the subject matter (binary code, anyone?). The play is set in two time zones: 1989 and 1984. Shannon is a young woman with few social skills. She cleans rooms in a hotel for a living but her passion is computers.  When the play begins she is in a police interrogation room with a computer that doesn’t work. Her interrogator is Dr Holly Arrow and she is Shannon’s idol. It transpires that Shannon claims to have hacked into a computer system that Holly built, a system called Lucy that is used by the US government.

Shannon wasn’t hacking the system for any malicious reasons, she thought it was beautiful and saw a flaw in its design and wanted to let Dr Arrow know before someone else came in and damaged it. But Dr Arrow is not impressed or amused.

ARROW: Well – Let me put it like this. This is a person – yeah? – who goes into a building in the middle of the night, bag of tools, dressed in black, takes somes photographs, puts em in a box, and then goes to the architecture firm who designed it and asks for a job. When she’s asked why she broke and entered, she says: “Ohh – I wanted to go to architecture school but they wouldn’t let me in…’

In fact, Holly Arrow refuses to believe that Shannon is capable of hacking into her system. This is partly due to rivalry: she’s the smart woman in the US government – she doesn’t need some cleaner to come and show her up. Then there’s also the profile of a hacker. It matches Robert, the young man Shannon is friends with, and that means Robert must be the brains behind the operation.

Shannon met Robert and his mum Kathleen in 1984 when they rented a room to her. She stuttered, had no money and appeared to be a complete misfit but they let her into their home. I love the way Marcel has written the relationship between Kathleen and Robert, he’s captured the working mother’s stress, fierce love and protectiveness perfectly. And Kathleen also has a nice level of sarcasm and wit.

KATHLEEN: [To SHANNON:] I’m sorry, my son’s not very well. He has a rare brain disease, where he thinks I’m going to go to work and leave him alone with a complete stranger, if you’ll forgive me, Shannon: Robbie, go to school.

The Australian characters are delightful. Holly Arrow is the most difficult character to engage with, but she’s there to provide the tension, to give the corporate line to the others rebellion. The play reads like a crime drama, it’s a page turner and the sort of thing that makes you feel you’re a bit more knowledgeable by the time you’ve finished. It’s also got a lot of heart.

Hopefully it will have another performance soon.

Unpublished at the time of posting.

Cast: 3F, 1M

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