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They've Already Won at Gorman Arts Centre confronts the end of the world

They've Already Won. Written, directed and performed by Harriet Gillies and Pierce Wilcox. Ralph Wilson Theatre, Gorman Arts Centre. Ainslie and Gorman Arts Centres. February 16 (preview) at 7.30pm then February 17-20 at 7.30pm. Tickets $20 (preview), $25 full/$20 concession. Bookings: 6182 0000.

Pierce Wilcox says They've Already Won is "a play about the apocalypse". In it, he says, he and co-writer/director and fellow performer Harriet Gillies, both in their mid-20s, play "the worst versions of ourselves" as they struggle to come to terms with unpleasant realities like global warming, inequality and oppression.

Pierce Wilcox and Harriet Gillies bring optimism and resignation to They've Already Won.
Pierce Wilcox and Harriet Gillies bring optimism and resignation to They've Already Won.  Photo: Jack Toohey

"It's about the end of the world," he says. "We as young people are increasingly aware of the horrible things going on and are incredibly powerless to do anything about it except post on Facebook.

"One of the great things about the show is that Harriet and I disagree," he adds. He's hopeful, optimistic about the potential of technology to change things for the better, but she, he says, is "Zen – aware that things are going to end horribly".

He points to the fact that the pace of innovation has increased and to people like the chief executive of Tesla, Elon Musk, who have the money and drive to help humanity invent its way out of crisis, "there's reason for hope".

But others, like Gillies, are less sanguine. Even Wilcox thinks that on climate, for example, "we're over the cliff already", figuratively speaking, and it remains to be seen, for example, whether people will be willing to adopt changes to their lifestyles to counter the effects.

Their contrasting attitudes, besides being good for the dynamics of the show, are also mirrored in those of their generation, he says. Some people still believe in hope, while others have, if not given up, resigned themselves to watching as many cat videos on YouTube as possible before the end comes.

But how much of this latter attitude self-defeating and self-indulgent? Wilcox says that in the digital era of instant gratification and hyperbole – where everything is either the "best" or the "worst" and people are put at a distance by technology – it's increasingly difficult to have meaningful conversations about anything and genuine human interaction is also harder to find. If that's the case even on an individual level, what hope is there on a national, international or global level?

These are the sorts of questions that might arise in the show's interactive component when Wilcox and Gillies talk to the audience to gauge their viewpoints.

Wilcox started but didn't finish degrees in law and English at Sydney University before completing studies in directing at the National Institute of Dramatic Art in Sydney. He's known Gillies since university but this is the first time they've worked together on a project.

"I have a performance art practice and I work for an opera company, Sydney Chamber Opera – I've written a couple of libretti."

He has no performance aspirations in that area – "I cannot sing!" – but says there are a lot of directors who can handle existing plays, so he thinks it's a good idea to devise and direct his own material. Last year he created a show, Only You Can Save Us, "a retro sci-fi mash-up" that paid homage to fondly remembered good-guys-bad-guys science fiction stories like Star Wars and examined what they have to say to us now. It travelled to Adelaide and Perth.

Then came They've Already Won, which was first performed in Newcastle in October before a season at Belvoir in Sydney. The next stop is Canberra and he's looking forward to performing his first show in the nation's capital.

"I'm excited to be at Gorman Arts Centre … it's a space for experimental performance and this seemed a perfect fit."

Wilcox says They've Already Won is aimed not just at people his own age but at his generation's parents and even grandparents who may have had, and lost, their own idealism.

And, he says, the response to the show has been "really wonderful".

"A lot of people come up and say, 'It's as if you took my brain and put it on stage'.''