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.