Press – A Machine they're Secretly Building

Part of the British Council Edinburgh Showcase 2017

**** “Rachel Baynton and Gillian Lees are wearing black clothes and red balaclavas. They stand before us with a slight air of menace. But this smartly intelligent hour-long whizz through the world of surveillance, and the way governments legitimise spying on their citizens, makes you question what we mean by a terrorist and where the real threat lies. If you are reading this online, the state may be watching…
Governments have plenty to hide, and Andrew Westerside’s script exposes some of those secrets as it takes as on a whistle-stop tour of the history of government surveillance from 1943 wartime London to the present day via the cold war. If you feel less safe than you did 20 years ago that may have more to do with rolling news and the fact that governments know that citizens are more compliant when tensions are higher and people more afraid…
The tone is lightly ironic as Baynton and Lees exchange information and gobble secret edible messages, and wrap each other in cling film. But while they may be the only human performers, Adam York Gregory’s dense video design offers a constant barrage of images that sometimes reinforce text and often wittily undermine it. This is coolly reasoned theatre, produced by Proto-type Theatre with stylish aplomb.”

– Lyn Gardner, The Guardian

Upending our balaclava-clad expectations from the get-go, Proto-type Theater’s A Machine they’re Secretly Building eschews easy anarchy and invites us through the black mirror into a chilling and surprisingly playful examination of the dangerous psychology behind the web of all-prevalent surveillance technology we’re caught up in everyday…
Westerside’s narrative is crystalline throughout, avoiding hand-wringing or scaremongering and instead constantly underscored with a refreshing self-awareness that keeps the audience on-side… Lees and Baynton take our hands and lead us sympathetically into a dark new world…
Proto-type’s team have such imagination and clarity of vision; their kind of theatre is a great antidote to 2017’s tangled political and cultural landscape. A Machine they’re Secretly Building is an urgent, lively and entertaining starting point for addressing the issues that affect every one of us, everyday.”

– Christine Irvine, Exeunt


**** “Uncomfortable laughs and unpalatable home truths permeate throughout A Machine… Gillian Lees and Rachel Baynton present a history of surveillance, either filming themselves in Pussy Riot styled pink balaclavas, or bouncing staccato lines off each other, sitting behind a desk, their voices emulating the clicking of typewriters…
Two superb performances, intelligent and playful, are complemented by exacting video footage by Adam York Gregory. The kind of theatre that seeps into the sub-conscious. Pass the tin foil hats.”

 – Lorna Irvine, The List

****Bold text, excerpts from leaked intelligence documents, words from Edward Snowden and newsreel clips make A Machine… an immersive experience that pulls back a curtain on organisations like the NSA and GCHQ and confronts the audience with startling truths…
A Machine… brilliantly pulls us in as we hurtle towards the climax, bombarding us with arresting revelations and the growing realisation that we’re not really watching theatre at all. What we see and hear on stage is a masterfully devised mirror.
At the end of the show, we haven’t witnessed a character arc or revelled in a twist ending. We are being called to arms. A Machine… is an alarm clock, waking us up. Leaving the theatre, you might think twice about turning your mobile back on straight away.

 – Matthew Keeley, The Wee Review

*** “The show’s devisers and performers Rachel Baynton and Gillian Lees move from the Cold War to 9/11 and beyond without ever quite giving the game away. With a title drawn from Edward Snowden and a script pulled together by Andrew Westerside and the company, the pair nevertheless still manage to unveil a very secret history.
In collusion with Adam York Gregory’s text-heavy video projections and an electronic underscore by Paul J Rogers, this reveals a digital age where every click, text and email is recorded, saved and stored.”

 – Neil Cooper, Herald Scotland


*** “Sitting stony-faced at a shared desk, Baynton and Lees take us through the post-war history of global terrorism and the parallel history of intelligence gathering, while an adjacent screen shows a collage of archive footage and statistics. The script, by director Andrew Westerside, is written in an austere poetry of buzzwords and half-sentences, recited with steely efficiency as if to underscore the mechanical chill of information overload.

 – Mark Fisher, The Scotsman

**** “Blending video, theatre, and agitprop, A Machine they’re Secretly Building explores cyber security and the commodification of privacy in a convincing performance. Proto-type Theater’s production straddles eras from 1943 to current politics, laying bare the dangerous equation of safety and surveillance in Western democracies…  in front of the audience and the camera, the performers expose the way an overarching gaze controls and, ultimately, shapes our every movement.”

 – Marine Furet, Plays to See

Both Baynton and Lees have a strong presence and chemistry… It’s confident, absorbing storytelling. There are also reminders throughout that, while we might all be generally aware of the facts, rhetorics and forces at play here (hint: security is big business), we’ve somehow collectively shrugged and moved on. The piece offers moments at which its performers question themselves: what is the alternative to living in this data-driven society? Going “off the grid”? Donning our collective tin-foil hats? Organising, collectivising, rioting? Well, things are generally good, and Google’s quite useful. The weather’s fine. Perhaps we’ll riot tomorrow… a sharing of disbelief, an articulate wail of anger and powerlessness”

– Mark Smith, British Theatre Guide

*** “…after an hour in the company of Rachel Baynton and Gillian Lees you may want to go off grid, head to the woods and never touch a keyboard ever again! Based on Edward Snowden’s revelation of the US government’s “massive surveillance machine they’re secretly building”, writer (and director) Andrew Westerside’s history of State surveillance is both revelatory and deeply disturbing
Baynton and Lees’ performances are compelling, their softly spoken words carefully pitched to have us learn forward in our seat to hear every word. They use charm and humour to disarm us but make no mistake, their message is forceful, their campaign as vivid as the lurid pink balaclavas they often don.”

 – Glen Pearce, The Reviews Hub


Proto-type’s show is fascinating. It is heavy with information, and probably strongest when it represents facts over speculation, but is structured so well that it never feels like reading some dry essay. The space is well constructed too, with performers reading from what look like ‘top secret’ Cold War spy files from an old metal filing cabinet, but also live balaclava videos, like a Pussy Riot intervention. Simple but striking… unflinching and important.”

– Megan Vaughan


“With only a camera, a projector and a filing cabinet to assist them, two women sit at a desk centre stage and within just one hour overwhelm us with information about our current predicament regarding privacy and surveillance. Whether they’re cracking jokes or relaying the chilling facts their voices maintain the flat, neutral authority of news readers as they lead us down to the reality of the scale of mass surveillance in 2016…
Tension builds as we speed towards the historical turning point, 9/11, when the women shed their neutral exteriors and the audience suddenly finds themselves amidst a bombastic, dynamic explanation of world affairs since Edward Snowden’s revelations in 2013. They run around, they swear, and use a number of interesting objects – from balloons to cling film – to get their point across, often being terribly funny in the process… Their message was clear: now you have all the information, it’s time for you to decide what you want to do about it.”

– Hannah Jordan, SCAN Magazine

“Through an expertly researched script and shrewd delivery, A Machine they’re Secretly Building gives a solid attempt to galvanise us into action. It is a compact, harsh assault on our conscience, wrapped in an accessible, attention grabbing package.”

– Charlie Salter, Salter Ego


“…entertaining and thought provoking.”

– Student review, University of Lincoln


“It dealt with the subject matter in a really good way, and presented it in an easy to understand format…”

– Student review, Lancaster University


“An inspired, deeply political essay rounded off by heartfelt empathy.”

– Oxford Guardian

“Absolutely Fantastic – completely paranoid now and trying to figure out what I can do”
“Absolutely Amazing! So eye-opening – will be doing extra research. Coming back tomorrow night with a pad and pen. Thank you.”
“More & more terrifying, more and more sad, more and more strange. Fantastic”
“Loved the show on Thursday! I can’t get my head around the scale of some of it, a Yottabyte!? Also, love the Balaclavas.”
“I enjoyed this show more than you can know, thank you thank you.”
@Pippa_Frith: #AMTSB is a must see… Important and exquisitely performed
@David Wood: I highly encourage you all to go & see ‘A Machine They’re Secretly Building’. A wonderfully disconcerting play.
@PlaystoSee: #AMTSB a re-enactment of historical facts & openly political performance, expect 2 feel paranoid!
@jimdougan:  Profoundly uncomfortable by @Proto_type A MACHINE THEY’RE SECRETLY BUILDING. Makes you wonder.
@MattTSaint: @Proto_type were as fantastic as usual tonight with #AMTSB, devastating but with masses of dry humour! Touring to a venue near you!
@porlcooper: Forget 1984 & BraveNewWorld. For a terrifying vision of present & future catch @Proto_type “A Machine….”…  Just AMAZING!
@philip_stanier: Great show on Thursday! Hard to believe; except it’s all true – Increasingly weird; except it’s all real #AMTSB
‏@katysnelling: Essential & urgent #AMTSB is brilliant, thought provoking theatre.
@mdpinchbeck: Loved new show by @Proto_type @LPAC_Lincoln. Framed by fact & tin foil, fictional futures. Drove home conscious of every CCTV camera. #AMTSB
‏@pheebs_wp: You don’t know how much you care until it’s put in front of you on a stage. #AMTSB by @Proto_type is unmistakably necessary theatre.
‏@philipkyeo: Fantastic performance from @Proto_type this evening on national surveillance as a moral issue. Definitely go and see. #AMTSB
‏@FlickbookTC: #AMTSB @Proto_type is compelling, intelligent, deeply political & gloriously theatrical. Vital watching for all internet users (that’s you).
@Doctor_Morrow: Excellent post show chat with lovely @Proto_type after their compelling #AMTSB @LPAC_Lincoln – grabs tinfoil hat
@JackHeat_On: Wow #AMTSB is absolutely brilliant. Please go & watch @Proto_type on tour! Insightful, witty and to be honest unnerving (in a very good way)
‏@TheReviewsHub: I would tell @proto_type what I thought of A Machine they’re Secretly Building but they probably already have the data
‏@GilesCroft: Really liked ‘A Machine they’re Secretly Building’ by @Proto_type last night. Powerful, thought provoking & beautifully achieved.
‏@_KieranSpiers_: Enthralled by the show. This is the type of theatre that needs to tour nationally. Surveillance is a bigger issue as any!!
‏@Laura_Potente: Absolutely blown away by @Proto_type incredible performance of A Machine They’re Secretly Building
‏@AmandaMason: A Machine they’re Secretly Building was amazing, truly thought-provoking. It’s scary to think how much cringe worthy posts from the past…