Jordan Harrison’s acclaimed play lands in London in a new production directed by Dominic Dromgoole and featuring a star-studded cast. Guillermo Nazara shares his thoughts on this work dealing with the fragility of modern relationships, to let us know what awaits in this futuristic tale depicting our present.
In a world where true human relationships are at the verge of extinction, technology is society’s only hope for salvation… Sounds like the opening of an action movie trailer (try reading out loud with a deep voice, it’s so cool – trust me, do it!), but what a few years ago looked just as mere pulp fiction has become our everyday now. Worst part of it, however, is that we have accepted it – many of us probably without even realising it.
When Jordan Harrison premiered his Pulitzer-finalist play back in 2014, the threats of cyber intelligence invading our privacy and controlling our lives had disappeared, as they had already become a solid reality. More than a visionary, his futuristic tale was (and is) closer to a late warning about a situation that, at this stage, seems quite irreversible. Set in the recurring sci-fi frame of the not-too-distant future, we’re presented to a time where people can finally reunite in life with their deceased loved ones – brought back through lookalike computers that can play their role to perfection; the only requirement is for the owner to fill them with the details about “their past”.
Haunting, emotional and incredibly philosophical, Harrison’s work succeeds at creating a refreshingly critical story narrated with metronomic pace and masterful dialogue. The truthfulness and sentiment put to his words, exposing the crude unpredictability of our existence, makes of this play not a work of fiction, but a testimony of the hundreds, thousands, millions of hearts that beat to its rhythm. The alienation from family members, the pain of seeing somebody you deeply care for whither, the incapability of coping with such loss and woe… No matter if present, past or future, some things just never change.
Directed by Dromgoole, the values of this production do total justice to the material, keeping the interest high through a triumphant rendition by the whole cast, alluring transitions and a mixture of natural and symbolic blocking. The set is, for that matter, a praise-deserving feature on its own. Credit to Jonathan Fensome (also responsible for the costumes), the intricacy and initial realism of the design generates the uncanny effect of not being watching a performance, but rather witnessing (or perhaps eavesdropping on) something that is indeed happening.
Previously applauded but undoubtedly worthy of a second mention, the troupe is an honest delight to observe and being moved (and even, and highly probably, shaken) by. Nancy Caroll, in the lead role of Tess, gives an astonishing portrayal of her frustrated grieving character, endowing her delivery with so much instinct and naturality that the veracity of her acting is only topped by the fact that sometimes, for some strange mystical reason, it appears you’re the one that’s being spoken to. On the other hand, Tony Jayawardena as Tess’s husband Jon, also provides a most compelling performance at the exact same level – the chemistry between the two proving these are two parts they were destined to play, and to play together.
When many good things can be said about a show, it can only mean one thing: I’m going f**king soft! Jokes apart (as if), the staggering quality of this whole montage proves that entertainment and acumen can work in perfect tandem when brought together by the proper hands. Everybody was the right person to do their job on this occasion, and this translates into one single word: success. With an eerily memorable ending that’s been trapped in my mind since I left the venue, there’s something to be noted both before and after the play is over: get away from Mark Zuckerberg.
All pictures credit to Manuel Harlan.
Marjorie Prime plays at London’s Menier Chocolate Factory from Tuesday to Sunday until 6 May. Tickets are available on the following link.