It may star Anne Reid and Nancy Carroll on fine form but Marjorie Prime proves a bit of a slog at the Menier Chocolate Factory
“I’m afraid I don’t have that information”
A delayed trip to Marjorie Prime as my original performance was cancelled due to cast illness – Nancy Carroll’s viral laryngitis rather than any threat to 87-year-old national treasure Anne Reid. But despite some top-tier casting, I’m not sure that it wasn’t the universe trying to help me dodge a bullet as Jordan Harrison’s play ultimately lacks the spark to make it fly.
Set in a near-future that feels ever-closer with every ChatGPT headline, this is a world where people in mourning are able to source AI versions of their loved ones, a ‘prime’ to act as a companion and/or salve to the soul. 80-something Marjorie has been gifted a prime of her husband Walter, though at a much younger age and as she deals with the ravages of dementia, Harrison probes into what these technological advances might do to the way we interact with each other.
The moments where this is the focus are superb – a scene between Reid’s Marjorie and Carroll as her uptight daughter Tess is magisterial as the latter struggles to deal with the notion that tech can ‘communicate’ better with her mother than she can. But his attention often ends up on the shortcomings of the tech, the limitations of machine learning heavy-handedly centred at the expense of too much else, particularly any real sense of grief given how much loss we’re dealing with here.
An ambitious three-act structure doesn’t help Dominic Dromgoole’s production, given the short running time, nipping too much character development in the bud over and again. Tony Jayawardena and Richard Fleeshman complete the cast well, the latter in particular as the eerie AI-generated Walter. But there’s too little heart here in the writing to match the fine acting onstage – there’s a real thrill in watching such talent as Reid and Carroll up close but this remains a test nonetheless.