Posts Tagged ‘science fiction’

Review – Room Service – Two Right Feet at the Bread and Roses Theater

September 5, 2019

It’s been a good summer for plays about robots in my book – first Space Age Love Songs,
and now this charming tale about data gone wild set in a much nearer future. Well, the days when having a robot that perfectly looks like a human being are probably very far off; but the underlying premise of this play, that of the amount of knowledge available about individuals in the cybersphere and what could be done with it, seems like a story that really is only about two years further off than right now.

Science fiction is often used as a way to examine social issues by looking at potential outcomes from a more distant viewpoint. In this case, Max has been sent to a town not far from where he lives to do a week on site, for reasons nobody cares about; what matters is that when he walks into his hotel room, he is greeted by a service robot, Zahra, who is FAR more knowledgeable about his desires than Max is comfortable with. Is he eating properly? Zahra thinks not, based on CCTV recordings of Max going to MacDonalds and having late night kebabs. Can she be sure? Well, yes, by doing a chemical analysis of his poo. And how does Richard find out this has happened? By discovering that his morning fry up has been replaced with meusli by the oh-so-concerned-for-the-guest Zahra. Some of the easy jokes are gotten out of the way quickly (Zahra talking is overheard by Max’s wife), some of the easier jokes are completely avoided (to my ABSOLUTE joy Max did not try to get fresh with Zahra, constantly seeing her as simply a robot – easily, I think, represented by just a voice but far more compelling for us as an audience to have Emma Stannard, with her glorious glow in the dark pink hair, to watch _being_ a robot), but the set up for simple philosophy gets pushed further and winds up developing into quite a story line.

You see, not trying to hump robots aside, Max is very human in being not particularly logical, and in being impulsive, and in being ruled by chemicals and memories and inadequate data in a way that Zahra is not. This leads to him doing things, in one mere week, that look likely to mess his life up but good. And can Zahra help under her terms and conditions, as signed when Max went onto the webiste?

As a full length yet short show, I found this show both emotionally compelling and an example of damned fine story telling, with the tousle-haired Andrew Mullan believable as a young businessman settling down somewhat awkwardly into fatherhood, and the expressionless (yet fully controlled in a perfectly “I’m a robot way”) Stannard just deliciously smooth and, who would think it, sympathetic as the collection of bits and data that really just wants to make sure that her client is well taken care of. It was a rare and perfect bit of science fiction theater that asked some very timely questions about how we are living today and wrapped it all up in a tight little narrative package that absolutely took us somewhere with feelings – even if robots aren’t meant to have them, we most certainly are, and I did. It’s only on for a few more days, but make the trek down to the Bread and Roses, it’s well worth the effort.

(This review is for the opening night performance, which took place on Tuesday, September 3, 2019. It continues through Saturday September 7.)

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Review – X – Royal Court

April 22, 2016

I really enjoyed Alistair McDowall’s Pomona, a delicious yet imperfect horror play that posited that no transdimensional monster could be as terrifying as the evil within the human heart. So I was excited to see that he was taking on the science fiction world with his new play, X, set at some point in the future on the planet Pluto, where the earth’s outpost has suddenly been cut off from home.

X delivered drama hand over fist, choosing wisely to focus on the human impacts of extreme circumstances; of removal from human society; of removal from belief in a future; of removal from the underpinnings that cluster together to keep us sane. With these bits and pieces extracted slowly from the cluster of people living together for what increasingly begins to feel like forever, how would they react? How would they treat each other? Could they even survive? Would they want to? But in addition to a compelling narrative, there was something I didn’t expect from this play: a fantastic approach to the conundrum of living in a world of dwindling resources. I can’t even be bothered to go to plays about climate change any more because they are such uniform failures as works of drama, but McDowall made a man playing bird calls the core of a scene that could raise tears in its simple sadness.

To make everything more fun, McDowall has added in time shifts …. jarring at first but extremely absorbable if you’re used to the genre … and then made the protagonist “unreliable.” To some extent it makes this play a bit more of a psycho-thriller; but what it really means is that we, the audience, are forced to constantly question what the “real” narrative is. This questioning continues long after the show is over.

So what does all this playwriterly tricksteriness mean? It means that I just had a really f**king good night at the theater. My companion and I were, in fact, jumping up and down with excitement about what a really good play we had just seen. And because it was a play, and not a book or a movie, the warping of convention was not just unexpected by truly remarkable. Sign me up for McDowall’s next play: I think I’m officially a fan.

(This review is for a performance that took place on April 18th, 2016. It continues through May 7th. Bless the Royal Court and their £10 Mondays – it means so many more people that ought to see this show are going to be able to afford it.)