Reviewed by Malcolm Calder
By Emily Perkins
Directed by Colin McColl
Auckland Theatre Company
ASB Waterfront Theatre
Until 8 October
Reviewed by Malcolm Calder
Many years ago my then 7-y-o daughter received a birthday gift in the form of a tamagotchi or toy-pet. Many of her cohort had similar tamagotchis and sustaining their welfare, longevity and happiness became a short-lived but major part of the kids’ lives.
This half-buried memory leapt back into vivid and immediate focus when ‘I-woke-up-and-was-very-happee’ cyborg Arie (Hannah Tasker-Poland) who graces the stage with immobility right from the time the audience is first admitted, swings mechanically into action in the opening scenes of Emily Perkins’ hilarious new play The Made.
Chief protagonist Alice (Alison Bruce in a standout performance) is a driven, down to earth, working mother desperately trying to secure funding to develop her cyborg into a sentient* robot. But successful sentience is a sometime thing and her claim for R&D funding is rebuffed while she staunchly suffers the trials and tribulations that middle age has thrust upon her.
The sudden arrival of Alice’s mercurial drug-dealing, university dropout child Sam (played with verve and endearing vigour by Murdoch Keane) reveals that the future may lie in … mushrooms! And this opens the door to … well, to a plethora of issues that are as relevant today as they are to the future.
Colin McColl ensures that the mirth flows in The Made. He keeps the audience in stitches with the two cyborgs at point using highly successful one-liners, sight gags, deliciously overacted situational comedy and a more than capable cast.
Both cyborgs have a physical presence that features throughout the play. Sam’s ‘Nanny’ (Bronwyn Bradley) is a kind of accidentally-sentient Mk 1 prototype. She is rather unceremoniously unpacked from a box before demonstrating brief traces of sentience and goes on to reveal shreds of nuance! And the aforementioned Arie, probably best described as a Mk 1.5-attempted-sentient with shortcomings, then jitters and judders her way throughout – sometimes at the most inopportune times – and always wakes being ‘very-happee’.
The issues that arise are immediately apparent and very, very funny. How should we relate to inanimate things? Why do humans try to make humanoid likenesses? Do, and should, robots have feelings? What about interaction and who is ultimately in control? What about procreation? These, and a range of other popular conceptions and misconceptions, are what audiences will quickly love and laugh themselves silly over.
While the play quickly grabs its audience by the throat and thrusts issues in its face using outrageously unashamed comedy, playwright Emily Perkins skilfully allows other broader issues to bubble away just beneath the surface, The Made also reaches a completely different level and therein lies its real heart.
Ultimately this is a play about humanity, about family and about values. Alice questions sexual roles and stereotypes, marriage breakup, business decision-making and processes, as well as middle-age and menopause and more than a few other things as well. All from that clear woman’s perspective.
In her background, former cello-playing husband David (Peter Daube) is styled as her anchor, even if she does not initially realise it. The Director (Adam Gardiner) from whom she seeks more funding furthers a business-as-patriachy theme in an appropriately two-dimensional role, and most of the other cast members also remain important caricatures that enhance the comedy. With delightful irony, it is the effervescent Sam who steals the show and who will quite possibly best accommodate future-world.
Production values in The Made maintain the high standards expected of Auckland’s premier theatre company. There is a simple two-set stage, a well-handled sound-scape and some subtle cyber-voice generation.
So, on balance, congratulations to ATC for generating new work, especially from a writer who is a standout among Aotearoa’s more recent generation of literary high achievers.
Meanwhile my daughter still wistfully concedes that she loved her tamagotchi years ago … and reckons the tamagotchi loved her back too.
*sentient – having reactions like living things would, ranging from positive states like pleasure to negative states like pain.