Under the hustle and bustle of Leicester Square, there is a humanoid standing in a Perspex box with her back to the audience, stood still whilst we take our seats and wait for the play to begin, electro house music pumping. This sets up the near future scenario that is Squire Lane Theatrical’s Version 2.0, written by Kashyap Raja.
We are propelled into a world where anyone can order a humanoid on Amazon, not only that, but they can also design every aspect of them to their liking- think Ex Machina or Black Mirror. An interesting concept, and one which seems closer and closer to reality, the premise is that Kash, played by Tim Atkinson, orders an identical replica of Karen, played by Tracey Pickup, an old friend, in order to fulfil his fantasies and have her act in his play. What is intriguing is that the humanoid, despite having the appearance of a fully-grown adult, has the innocence of a child, and must develop its artificial intelligence until it is prepared for more information.
Pickup’s portrayal of this fact is charming, and when she is then in ‘acting’ mode as the robot in a play (yes there is a lot going on), her transition to naturalism comes as a relief, as the extremely intimate space is seemingly unable to contain the booming energy which comes constantly from Atkinson. That being said, under the direction of Kevin Michael Reed, the heavier moments are well done, especially by Pickup, however something I cannot get on board with is the actual character of Kash. He is completely unlikeable, a representation of the ‘nice guy’ who blames and punishes the object of his affections for not feeling the same way about him that he does about her. Raja also explores the topic of what it means to be a man, and the negative connotations that can be attributed to that, plus the effect social media can have on mental health. Unfortunately, some of the points made a constantly repeated, causing the piece to lose its tenacity and, at points, become a seemingly never-ending stream of consciousness.
Matthew Carnazza’s lighting design uses canvasses to project video and light on to, making creative use of the LED lights, whilst Martin Scott Marchitto’s set design is minimal, suggesting location through the scattering of various items such as discarded papers and leaves.
All in all, there are some nice ideas in this production, however some scenes seem to have no relevance to the story, only used to drive home a point or fact which has already been established, making this reviewer wonder what it is that Raja is aiming to say with this writing. Until some edits are made, Version 2.0 is more Black Mirror without the oomph.
Version 2.0 is playing Leicester Square Theatre until 3 March 2018
Photo: Peter Barsony