Would you replace your late husband with a robot? PATRICK MARMION reviews Marjorie Prime
Menier Chocolate Factory, London Verdict: Intriguing but puzzling
At the age of 87, with Coronation Street, Dinnerladies, Last Tango In Halifax, a Bafta nomination for her role in the film The Mother, and an MBE behind her, you might have expected to find Anne Reid enjoying life in the stalls. Not a bit of it.
She’s only gone and popped up with Nancy Carroll, Tony Jayawardena and Richard Fleeshman in Jordan Harrison’s intriguing but faintly puzzling drama about an American family of the future, living with a succession of robot versions of their dead selves (told you it was puzzling).
It starts with Reid’s Marjorie being consoled by Fleeshman’s buff, 30-year old reincarnation of her late husband, Walter — a relationship reminiscent of Reid’s role with Daniel Craig as her young lover in The Mother, though with chit-chat supplied by Alexa and Siri.
This is no small irritation to her daughter Tess (Carroll), who still hasn’t got over the death of her older brother.
And in due course, Marjorie becomes a robot too, offering succour to Tess — before Tess herself becomes an android, offering consolation to her husband Jon (Jayawardena). These therapy-bots are called Primes (hence the title), and can be programmed with all sorts of personal information, as well as being sophisticated enough to provide the authenticity of conversational non-sequiturs.
It starts with Reid’s Marjorie being consoled by Fleeshman’s buff, 30-year old reincarnation of her late husband, Walter
Thanks to this, Harrison’s ostensibly cosy, middle-class set-up raises interesting uncertainties about who’s living and who’s dead. The dramatic problem with automata, though, is that they, er, lack autonomy and motivation. This is usually solved in TV and film by a descent into sex, violence and Armageddon. Not here.
Harrison’s 70-minute play is a set of theatrical snapshots, taken over time and, instead of turning into Westworld or The Terminator, it becomes an altogether gentler meditation on the nature of relationships.
And yet, as a one-act play, the implications of androids as electronic ghosts, providing emotional support to the living, is underexplored. The psychological carnage of the characters’ delusional attachments could have been taken much further.
Even so, Dominic Dromgoole — the terrific former artistic director of Shakespeare’s Globe — offers a tidy and thoughtful production.
The imperious Reid leads his cast with a lightness of touch as Marjorie: a former violinist who could’ve married a tennis pro, but settled instead on Tess’s father, ‘because he was a better lover’.
Carroll immerses herself impressively in Tess’s troubled thoughts, tortured by feeling that her mother’s grief at the loss of her son left her neglected as a daughter — although that self-diagnosis is largely untested by the story.
Jayawardena, as her husband, gets precious little to chew on. But Fleeshman, as the replica of her father, is a charmingly biddable sycophant.
Visually, it’s restful on the eye, with the cast co-ordinated in autumnal colours, on an Ikea-like showroom set made of ginger wood with teal trimmings.
Yet, like the bonsai tree that sits in front of an electronically generated ocean view, Harrison’s play feels a little bit stunted.
Carroll immerses herself impressively in Tess’s troubled thoughts, tortured by feeling that her mother’s grief at the loss of her son left her neglected as a daughter
Jermyn Street Theatre Verdict: Explosive atomic fallout
The year is 1945. Six nuclear scientists tasked with producing an atomic bomb for the Nazis have been spirited out of Germany and detained in shabby quarters within a stately home, Farm Hall.
Bugged by the Secret Service, bored and claustrophobic, these brilliant minds are reduced to rehearsing Noel Coward’s Blithe Spirit — and none has the talent to amuse.
They can’t talk serious science. The chalk scribbles on a blackboard of molecules under pressure turn out to be an effort to work out how bubbles are put into champagne.
Six nuclear scientists tasked with producing an atomic bomb for the Nazis have been spirited out of Germany and detained in shabby quarters within a stately home, Farm Hall
In Katherine Moar’s quietly riveting debut — partly inspired by transcripts of covertly recorded conversations — the clashing personalities and moral positions of the scientists are skilfully established.
Highly-competitive, they squabble like schoolboys. Weizsacher (Daniel Boyd), the son of a diplomat, has charmed the absent landlord into giving them a piano. David Yelland’s Nobel prize-winner Von Laue would have preferred Monopoly. Though he would probably not have played with Diebner (Julius D’Silva), a pompous, humourless Nazi.
Fellow Party member Bagge (Archie Backhouse) is indulged as he’s the cheery son of a locksmith and the student of Nobel Prize-winning, unreadable Heisenberg (Alan Cox). Warm, wise Hahn (Forbes Masson) presides.
He is the genius who discovered nuclear fission, the physics behind the atomic bomb. Which is the play’s catalyst.
When a radio broadcast reports that the Americans have dropped an atomic bomb on Japan, the Germans are forced to question why their science failed where the U.S. succeeded. And a tearful Hahn feels personally responsible for the deaths of thousands.
Fascinating stuff: the unforeseen implications of scientific discovery come under intense scrutiny by a writer to watch.
He is the genius who discovered nuclear fission, the physics behind the atomic bomb. Which is the play’s catalyst
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