Future Shock

Richard Stockwell
24:7 Theatre Festival
New Century House, Manchester

Future Shock publicity photo

Richard Stockwell's Future Shock brings a touch of science fiction to 24:7, but like most plays set in a different time—whether past or future—it uses the time-shift as a device to talk about issues in the present.

In the not-too-distant future to us, Laura was part of a NASA project in which astronauts were sent on an exploratory mission that was to take hundreds of years to complete and so were put into a state of suspended animation, and their loved ones on earth were put into the same state so that they were would be here to receive the brave explorers when they returned. However due to issues with a banking crisis, cuts in public funding and private companies taking over public assets, the money allocated by NASA has run out and so the company that now owns the facility wakes Laura up 200 years too early. She has to confront a world very different from the world she appeared to leave only yesterday and to face the fact that she is unlikely to see the man she loves ever again.

This is a fascinating concept that brings in some interesting issues as well as the political ones mentioned above, including the consequences of science, the nature of self and issues of identity related to cloning and "designer babies", but there are a few sci -fi clichés in here as well. Everyone in the future wears white, many consider emotion to be an unnecessary hindrance, the country is run with corporate efficiency, the earth has been made uninhabitable by man's actions and the English language has barely changed at all in 800 years, certainly not compared to the last 800.

There is some very good writing in here, but Stockwell aims at some easy targets by, for instance, looking at the consequences to ordinary people of a banking crisis in the future that parallels that in our own time but leaving it at that without looking below the surface. The issue of whether a person stored as atoms and then reconstituted at a later date is still the same person even with the same construction, personality and memories is a fascinating philosophical question that is given more space. However there is an anti-science bias that blames something called "science" for many of the world's ills in a superficial and simple-minded fashion.

There is a superb central performance from Alice Brockway as Laura with a sympathetic portrayal of Stampfer, her legal representative, by Phil Minns. Christine Clare returns to 24:7 after her performance in Pawn last year with another cold, emotionless character, the clone Nicoletta.

On the surface Future Shock is an interesting and original piece of drama with some good writing, but, on digging a little deeper, there is less to it than meets the eye. It would be nice to see some of the gaps in the arguments filled in and made more coherent to provide a much richer experience in this otherwise intelligent play.

Running to 28 July 2011

Reviewer: David Chadderton