Home Theatre, Manchester; Wednesday 3rd October, 2018
Computers, televisions, laptops, mobile phones – all around us our technological hardware grows smaller and more compact, yet even as physical size diminishes it paradoxically seems to grow ever more powerful and pervasive. Just how far can these efficiency and productivity savings go, how small and powerful can a computer get, are we heading towards the ultimate dream: infinitely powerful software magically squashed into infinitesimally small hardware???
Future Bodies by Unlimited Theatre proposes a rather disturbing human software versus human hardware conundrum and, in doing so, offers up a potentially fascinating possibility – that one day a human entity could be transferred into some sort of nano-computer storage device thing. Exactly how that works might still remain science fiction but the impacts and effects might already be playing out around us right now.
Future Bodies is both alarming and unsettling – not just in terms of the philosophical themes being touched upon but also in the way this piece of theatre is constructed. Directorial input is provided by RashDash Theatre and the result is an injection of their trademark anarchic presentation and theme-carrying style, one which serves to confound the underlying mystery even further.
The collision between I’m-a-bit-freaked-out-by-this science and RashDash’s innovative theatrics works really well – both are a little bit frightening but then both are also totally compelling and alluring. There is something close to a conventional plot and performance lurking in the background somewhere but the show regularly meanders into different directions – most notably in the shape of characteristic RashDash musical / audio deviations, as well as gratuitous physical dance routines.
Live musical accompaniment is constant throughout the show and creates a fantastic mood of eerie freakiness. A series of sub-plots present the same philosophy in multiple different ways: the deaf lady who doesn’t need to be “cured”; the HR manager advocating microchips for more efficient employees; the murderer who would rather be executed than re-programmed. The very final scenes are the most powerful, when a tantalising glimpse is offered of just how far the human out-of-body experience might go.
These differing scenes aren’t necessarily connected to each other, other than through their adherence to the underlying theme, so the overall feel of the show is a little jumpy and arguably incoherent. But the performance works once you start losing yourself in the big questions being raised, rather than worrying too much about what the answers might be.
If you upload a human into a computer is that entity even a human any more? How do you know it was ever based on a real human in the first place? Could it just continue to exist for ever and ever without ever dying? Future Bodies isn’t going to answer any of these questions but what it will do is put even more mind-bending conundrums into your head.
As the final curtain goes down Future Bodies seems to leave a slight sense of unfulfillment, as if perhaps someone has only told you 90% of a story. But that will be because the whole show is about questions that can’t be answered, and also because it ushers into existence a bothersome portfolio of new questions that you probably have never considered before. If you can accept it as a brash and arrogant trouble-maker that’s trying to start a fight with your ego and challenge your very existence, it’s really rather good.
|Visual pleasure||An ornate stage resembling a grand boxing ring, curtains being constantly drawn around the performance area so as to usher in the next scene and introduce the next moment of intrigue. Plenty to look at, possibly too much at once, especially as the audio captioning (which was extremely useful) was also mixed with projected text that wasn’t being spoken, hence it needed reading carefully.||4|
|Auditory pleasure||Outstanding musical and sound-effect accompaniment for a play that would have suffered without it. A guitar, keyboard and drum along with voice effects on a loop created a hypnotic auditory experience that truly emphasised the spooky weirdness of the show’s theme.||5|
|Architecture & Theme||The philosophy being dealt with is fascinating, and the programme notes reveal that reputable scientific input has been sought to add authenticity. Whether it was meant or not, Future Bodies seems to have achieved the rare goal of pleasingly and satisfactorily presenting science in the world of arts.||4|
|Artistic delivery||Outstanding performances from all actors involved, most notably from RashDash’s Beckie Wilkie single-handedly leading all musical efforts as well as casually wandering centre stage on occasion to get involved in the fun.||5|
|Overall impact||There is a really weird feeling that this play is somehow lacking in something but actually it’s not the theatrical creation that wrong / bad. Instead it’s the uncertainty over the big questions that aren’t being answered, and probably never will. This is an excellent piece of carefully crafted theatre, it’s an innovative subject matter being tackled in a very innovative way, certainly unlike any conventional theatre performance.||4|
|0||Detrimental – This aspect of the performance was so bad that it made the overall experience worse|
|1||Weak – This aspect of the performance was poor|
|2||Adequate – This aspect of the performance was perfectly acceptable, though nothing special|
|3||Good – This aspect of the performance was above average, it pleased in some way|
|4||Excellent – This aspect of the performance was much better than normal, it was impressive|
|5||Awe-inspiring – This aspect of the performance was exceptional, new boundaries were pushed.|