Earlier this year, Rash Dash Theatre blew me away with their radical reworking of Chekhov’s Three Sisters at the Royal Exchange Theatre. They now return to Manchester, in collaboration with Unlimited Theatre, to present a revolutionary new production, written by Rash Dash members Helen Goalen, Abbi Greenland and Unlimited Theatre’s co-founder, Clare Duffy. Future Bodies depicts a dystopian world where human beings can be upgraded by the installation of a brain implant, which enhances cognitive functions, internalises everything required in life, and eradicates disease and death. Fragmented scenes explore a multitude of characters in different situations debating whether to ‘upgrade’ to this visionary lifestyle, or whether to remain fully human. It is a fascinating concept which highlights the dangers of our dependence and reliance on technology by showing how far we are consumed and controlled by it. One character strikingly states ‘You are already a machine’. It also shines a spotlight on the fundamental things that make us human; love, choice, freedom, biological chemistry, feelings, and death.
Future Bodies is an inclusive and fully immersive theatrical experience. It skilfully blends together dialogue, British Sign Language, Creative Captions, music and dance to create a multi-modal, visceral piece of art. Although some of the discussions regarding quantum physics left me confused, the rest of Future Bodies had me captivated and immersed in this dystopian world, prompting me to question my own existence. It leaves you pondering critical questions such as, what makes us human? Do we rely too heavily on technology? Would you get a brain implant? Would you upgrade? Would you choose to be immortal? Would you choose to ‘end the heartache and the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to’? For centuries, theatre has been asking principle questions like these, but I doubt a production has ever asked them in such an experimentally profound way as Future Bodies.
Becky Wilkie’s blue cyborg, standing stage right, accompanies the entire production with an eclectic musical soundtrack. It is composed of brilliant songs laced with humour, for example, ‘My upgrades bring all the boys to the yard’, mixed with electric guitar, synthesisers, percussion, ambient noise, and vocals. This soundtrack instantly transports you into a futuristic society and the use of distortion pedals creates a dystopian uneasiness which perfectly suits the context of the play. The brilliant sound design is matched with stunning stage design, which sees a proscenium arch-like structure frame the stage, resembling a television screen, reminding the audience of the power that technology holds. Clear plastic drapes the stage, onto which Creative Captions are projected. Creative Captions are a superb addition to Future Bodies, making the show inclusively accessible to all, but they also brilliantly provide subtitles to the British Sign Language used by deaf actress, Lara Steward and other cast members. Not only indicating what is said, but which actor is speaking, Creative Captions should definitely be used in more theatre productions!
There is a meticulous, symbolic attention to detail evident throughout Future Bodies. Soil forms the base of the stage, representing the natural world, in opposition to the technological world portrayed through the play’s narrative. The thing that struck me was the use of the colour pink. As the corporate technology of brain implants sunk its teeth into the characters, their costumes became more corporate and more pink. Sarah Readman and Josh Pharo’s stunning lighting design also turns more pink as characters are ‘upgraded’. It made me think of George Orwell’s 1984, with a pink version of ‘Big Brother’ technology controlling all events.
The society’s obsession with technology is splendidly subverted by the expressive dance which closes the play. This beautifully choreographed carnal dance perfectly embodies the impulsive freedom, sensuality, and organic human nature; artistically conveying what it means to live a biological life. This visceral dance explores all human emotions, from sadness, happiness, passion and slow-motion flossing portrays humour. It is a bold, experimental climax to an inventive, immersive theatrical experience. Another strikingly beautiful and emotional moment in Future Bodies is the scene where Deshaye Gayle and Lara Stewart’s characters discuss starting a family using Sign Language. Their incredible chemistry makes their relationship feel authentic, and this decidedly human, expressive discussion was a wonderful antidote to the technological world their characters live in.
To classify Future Bodies as a play is to do a disservice to a superb multi-modal work of art, created over two years by an incredibly talented group of artists. The entire ensemble were superb in portraying multiple characters and situations. I am a huge fan of Rash Dash Theatre. They continue to produce radical, thought-provoking productions that blow my mind. My brain is still whirring with questions after watching this performance. Maybe I need an upgrade…
Photo Credits – Jonathan Keenan