Rash Dash and Unlimited Theatre’s Future Bodies is Black Mirror for the stage, Channel 4 version, pre Netflix budget. Through a series of quite surreal snapshots the production explores humanity’s ever increasingly complex relationship with technology. Set at an indistinct point in the future, each episode presents differing positions on how much humankind can and should give themselves up to the limitless capacity of technology. At times funny and at others heartbreaking this show seems to relish in leaving unanswered questions hanging in the air, after all “we don’t need to understand” or so we are told.
Future Bodies is rough around the edges for sure, but all the more charming for it. It works well in HOME’s intimate Studio theatre and epitomises the ‘artful without the art’ aesthetic that Manchester’s theatre scene is so particularly good at. It is hammy, at times amateur, and there are a number of labored moments and features which don’t particularly work; some of the dialogue is at times clumsy, some scenes are too long and others too short, but the overarching message and general feel of the show somehow does not seem to suffer because of it.
The backbone of this production is the punk-esque live soundtrack performed by Becky Wilkie in skin-tight blue licra on a small platform to the left of the stage. With loop pedals, a guitar, a drum kit and mic, Becky creates a symphony of growls, whoops and song that carries this piece from the offset to its close. Post-punk, neo-queer, alt-pop, however you want to describe it; Wilkie’s soundscape both reflects and amplifies the mad, frightening and perhaps over ambitious nature of the accompanying theatrical content.
The episodic style takes a little while to settle into; it starts off feeling a little frantic and disjointed, but perhaps this is intentional. Ultimately however this style does work and stops this performance from ever feeling too much like a play. It plays out as a series of exchanges, each toying with emotions in different ways. Although some fall flat, many do not and these are the moments that make an impression. The most memorable of these moments is a heartbreaking argument between Yursa Warsama who is terminally ill and Kate Maravan who plays her lover.This exchange is a passionate battle over the choice between eternal unity at the expense of a physical body, and temporary physical bonding at the expense of immortality. “Would I still love you if I didn’t have this skin?” These words are left ringing in the audience’s ears; but “we are more than our words” are we not?
The staging is striking, colourful and interactive consisting largely of movable plastic blinds, onto which subtitles and projections play out. Although a wonderful step in the right direction as far as accessible theatre is concerned, much of the subtitles are either so out of sync or so distorted by the uneven surface that they are in fact, unfortunately in this case, quite redundant.
The piece is undeniably repetitive, conceptual and abstract; the extended closing dance sequence is one that is sure to divide opinions. Those however that find it quite refreshing to watch the rules of conventional theatre fall apart, are bored of over rehearsed and polished productions, and those who get a kick out of witnessing weird simply for weird’s sake, are likely to enjoy this sci-fi journey from the start to the very bitter end.
After all the future is coming. Time to stop being normal.