Daily Mail

Would you replace your late husband with a robot?


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, 30year 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 chitchat 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 therapybot­s 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 nonsequitu­rs.

Thanks to this, Harrison’s ostensibly cosy, middleclas­s setup 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 70minute 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 oneact 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 selfdiagno­sis 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 coordinate­d 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.

 ?? ?? Dream machines: Fleeshman and Reid in Marjorie Prime
Dream machines: Fleeshman and Reid in Marjorie Prime

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