Script by Clare Duffy and Abbie Greenland
RashDash, Unlimited Theatre and HOME Manchester
The latest production from RashDash, linked to if not coinciding with the Manchester Science Festival, is a collaboration with Unlimited Theatre which looks at body enhancement—not for cosmetic purposes but to 'upgrade' the function of the human body or even to transcend the need for a body at all. This is all set in the future, of course, but perhaps some of it is not so far away.
The production is impressively slick for the amount of detail applied to every element, from the text and the movement to the design, music, lighting and sound, especially considering (as co-director Helen Goalen told the BTG podcast) there were only three weeks of rehearsal. It must have been pretty intense.
From Becky Wilkie's suggestive "upgrade me / upload me" in her opening song, we are taken through a series of snapshots, almost sketches, which address different questions through humorous dialogue scenes, such as the mothers at the school gates, one mocking the other for not getting her child fitted with the latest 'upgrade', or the smug science guy with a plan for how we could all leave our bodies behind and become 'gods' whose theory is shot down over the Christmas dinner table by his girlfriend's mother.
Following the punky "I don't have the money for your tech" song, there are more extended scenes: some quite emotional, others posing difficult questions. Alison Halstead has a moving monologue about whether she will join a programme to have an implant fitted as she has been suffering from depression following the death of her wife—but she doesn't want it if it makes her forget.
And then there is Deshaye Gayle's death row murderer, offered a tagged release scheme if he will have an implant to make him less likely to kill people, but he says he would prefer to be executed as himself. Or the woman who wants her dying partner to have her brain uploaded to a computer so she will still have her when her body has gone. Or the software update glitch that seems to make people more compassionate but if the company admits to it then the scandal could shut down the devices upon which millions of people rely.
The final phase moves the technology further, so that there are people who only live as thoughts on a 'substrate', no longer with a physical body, and even some younger 'people' who have never existed inside flesh and blood, only in a machine (I didn't quite get how that worked), and one who, to the amazement of her siblings, would prefer her mind to die along with her body.
After Wilkie sings Prince-like "I would still want to lick you", we see the other extreme, as the whole cast wordlessly dance around on a sand floor, enjoying their own and each others' bodies to sequenced primal sounds from Wilkie's sampler. This section went on for far too long for me, and for others I spoke to, which meant that after some fascinating variety and thoughtful argument, it ended on a monotonous low note.
However it is an impressive and often entertaining collision of performance styles, recorded and live music (Wilkie is a remarkable solo vocalist and multi-instrumentalist), design (even the sub/sur-titles are part of the overall design rather than a tacked-on extra) and intellectual debate in which every moment appears to have been carefully planned, performed with absolute conviction by the whole cast.