Marjorie Prime review: Anne Reid anchors this overly cosy AI play

Jordan Harrison’s gentle vision of an android-filled future feels too even-handed

Alice Saville
Thursday 16 March 2023 12:18 GMT
<p>Richard Fleeshman and Anne Reid in Marjorie Prime</p>

Richard Fleeshman and Anne Reid in Marjorie Prime

Anyone currently trembling in fear that their job will imminently be replaced by artificial intelligence will be soothed by the gentle vision of an android-filled future presented in Marjorie Prime. Brooklyn-based playwright Jordan Harrison wrote this lightly dystopian play nine years ago, before Chat GPT’s terrifyingly good AI software was successfully deployed to generate everything from movie posters to sonnets to wedding vows. Accordingly, he imagines a world where androids are flawed helpmeets to humans, rather than sinister overlords. It’s a strange, slightly outdated choice of play for Dominic Dromgoole (former artistic director of Shakespeare’s Globe and Bush Theatre) to pick for his first stage production in years. Still, it offers a thoughtful meditation on ageing and loss, laced with a little sci-fi eeriness.

Last Tango in Halifax star Anne Reid is the warm beating heart of this show as 85-year-old Marjorie: she’s wonderfully ribald, full of life, and anything but pitiable as she lives with dementia. But then, she’s got lots to be cheerful about. She’s got Walter (Richard Fleeshman) to nudge her memory. He’s a “Prime”, or an accurate android facsimile of her late husband, forever aged 30 (it’s amusingly insinuated that she wanted him at his very hottest). Their surreal conversations are full of accidental humour that comes from his only partial understanding of the human psyche – he works by thirstily drinking in the stories that Marjorie and her family tell him, then repeating them back with mingled naivety and profundity. “She was the most beautiful woman in town,” he tells her, narrating her life back to her as a bedtime story, before puncturing the mood by adding that “it wasn’t a very big town.”

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