Network Theatre - VAULT Festival
Booking until 12th March
Writers: Daniel Bainbridge, Cam Scriven
Director and Dramaturg: Marlie Haco
Set and costume design: Justin Nardella
Photo credit: Jake Bush
In a world where artificial intelligence has made humans immortal, Zara (Annie Davison) starts a one-year therapy programme with the support of an android, Alex (Olivia Barrowclough). At the end of the programmes, she will have the right to end her own life. This period allows Zara and Alex to reflect on what gives real purpose to life, how having an “expiration date” can make experiences unique and what being alive means.
During Zara’s therapy programme, she initiates a relationship with Jo (Sam Newton), which raises the question on how her choices will influence him and other people that care about her. The premise of the story is complex and within this current iteration, there isn’t sufficient time to dive into any of the arguments raised by the characters in depth. Instead, the play provides enough to spark discussions and reflections around euthanasia and suicide. Despite the seemingly serious premise of the play, writers, Daniel Bainbridge and Cam Scriven, have managed to weave in some light hearted and comedic moments to help the audience relax into what could be considered a heavy topic.
Despite the fact that the overall pacing is reasonably well planned, the flow of the story is a touch disjointed and there are aspects that could have been better developed. For example, the play features occasional dance transitions between scenes. The placement of the dances and what they are meant to achieve are unclear. This feeling also applies to the characters, which were not developed to the same extent.
Among the three characters, Alex is the only one that shows a real evolution throughout the story. It gains human feelings, insecurities and desires, and raising most of the key questions linked to the main theme. Barrowclough fantastically showcases the aforementioned elements and gradually becomes more human and relatable as the story progresses. You won’t leave the room without developing a soft spot for her. Although Zara’s initial frustration eases off towards the end of the play, when she shows some compassion, she remains anchored to her initial position and does not seem to take in the considerations shared by the others. Jo’s character is static throughout the play, and his presence does not seem to have an impact on the overall story. However, Newton should be commended for portraying Jo with a good dose of energy and irony, ensuring that the character leaves a mark in the narratives.
The play makes effective use of a minimalist, and yet clever stage set up. The game of lights and mirrors ensure that the two simple benches on stage would become different rooms, ambients and paths. Furthermore, the display of quotes and dialogues from the scenes akin to a virtual assistant at the back of the stage is also used most effectively.
Overall, the show provided a pleasant way to spend an evening, instigates the beginning of a long thought exercise, treating a heavy and complex subject in a pleasant and light-hearted way. Despite its many strengths, it leaves the audience with a sense of “aww”, but falling short of a “wow”.