The arts have always been preoccupied with the fate of humanity. Artists have always pondered on the future, be it a bleak dystopian vision or an idealised vision. From Margaret Atwood musing on dominance of a patriarchal society to Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner musing whether androids dream at night. Theatre is no less a stranger to this conversation and in Future Bodies, a collaboration between cool kids Home Manchester, Unlimited Theatre and RashDash Theatre, we have a play that asks whether one day if immortality is actually possible.
Future Bodies has been three years in the making, ever since Unlimited Theatre were commissioned by the Science Museum in London to make “an interactive festival of human enhancement and biotechnology”. From the seeds of these ideas, a relationship with RashDash was formed, taking their collaboration into the direction between the physical aspects of our bodies and our spiritual nature of our brain. RashDash and Unlimited – along with Home Manchester – have created a synergy of music, spoken word and performance pieces that push our sensory understanding of the subject matter to the very brink.
The hallmarks that make these two innovative and groundbreaking theatre houses are all there in their co-production. It’s a heady mix of visuals and sound, mangled together to form an intoxicating elixir. The set designed by Rhys Jarman makes effective use of the space at Home Manchester, in what seems like a mish mash of an industrial laboratory with a disco in the corner.
That corner would eventually become the home for character Evelyn Musk, played by Becky Wilkie, a “blue skinned, gender switching angel winged demi god”, who plays funky piano chords and zingy guitar riffs. It is a beguiling opening.
Like many of RashDash and Unlimited Theatre productions there is an fevered intensity to proceedings right from the off. It is not just that you have to take in a lot of short scenes overloaded with information in a short space of time, but you also have to disseminate the surroundings that the scenes take place. A combinations of visuals, projected words, with scenes that form part of a narrative, but are designed to be incohesive and debilitating for a reason.
I’ve often spoken of the different kinds of theatre, ones that allow you to sit back and wallow in the comfort of a text that confines to your norms and one that props you on the edge of your seat, bombarding you with messages and images, all the while posing questions that make your brain just work a little extra at its attempts to make sense of it all. There’s no prizes in guessing which category RashDash and Unlimited fall into.
And so we carry on the exposition into the play’s main themes, to the extent we continue to ask about the ramifications of whether our souls can be extracted from the metaphysical nature of our decaying bodies. The discourse whilst at times incoherent actually present some interesting dilemmas for us to ponder. The morality of immortality, the blurred lines of who we allow to access our non physical selves, the right to grieve over death, our very perception of disability – scrutinised in true RashDash/Unlimited style.
At times, however, it feels embryonic in its performance, as if the full consequences of the questions to be asked, about whether brain and body can be separated for the good of humanity, have not fully formed. Moreover, the whole spectrum of issues are never really put under the microscope of the glitter ball, there are no inquisitive theological debating or what it means for the more physical nature to the human body.
The end also seems haphazard with the production suddenly becoming a lengthy dance orientated vision of the future once we had all been upgraded. The intensity in the performance is modulated like watching an oscillator whose waves have just suddenly got higher in frequency and more tense in its tone.
Nonetheless, its imperfections only add to the spectacle of watching Future Bodies. By the end you have been left remorselessly drained, and instead of reflecting on what has just occurred, you ponder on the future, of what could be!
Verdict: An intense, surreal and at times quite exhilirating production from cool kids, Unlimted Theatre and RashDash, exploring the possibilities of whether immortality could be within humanity’s grasp.