22 March 2023
MARJORIE PRIME (Menier Chocolate Factory Theatre) Review
I heard some people were confused by the show, but I can’t see how or why that would be after the first 5 minutes. The play takes place in the future where one can buy an android (known as ‘Prime’) that looks like your loved one and can essentially replace her or him after s/he dies. The mechanics of the Primes is a bit complicated to describe, but is acted out in a very clean and self-explanatory way. Essentially a Prime is a blank slate who gets told stories about him or her, as well as about the person to whom said Prime will be a companion. That way the Prime can have meaningful conversations, thereby giving people an opportunity to speak and interact with someone who is now dead as if alive.
At the centre of the play is Marjorie, played superbly by Anne Reid. Marjoie is old and is losing her memory, so her daughter Tess gets Marjorie a Prime of Marjorie’s dead husband (and Tess’ father). Tess doesn’t think Primes are a good idea as a concept, but her husband Jon urges her to give it a chance. As the play progresses, more Primes enter the picture, and we get to see what the future could potentially look like in a scenario like this.
The idea is interesting, if not new, but its execution in the writing is mediocre at best. Jordan Harrison’s text is cliched, doesn’t flow, some of the dialogue feels contrived, and the progression of characters over time can be guessed less than 5 minutes into the play, which leaves us with no surprises, no feelings invested into anyone, and no one to care about except maybe the son-in-law. The central mother-daughter relationship could’ve been interesting, but it’s not sufficiently developed. Tess holds a grudge because her brother was her mum’s favourite, and Marjorie is simply who she is by the time we meet her. In fact, the only thing of substance we learn during the play is that Tess is incredibly selfish and a pretty terrible person. Sorry, but that’s not very interesting, and also somewhat tangential to the whole Prime thing.
And yet the boring and stagnant text is worth enduring just to see Anne Reid on stage. She is funny and sweet and sad and fragile all at the same time. Her Marjorie is the one with most depth and charisma (which, incidentally, comes from Reid, not the writing), and she could easily be anyone’s and everyone’s grandmother. Richard Fleeshman, as the Prime of the younger version of Marjorie’s husband, tries to be more emotionless and android-like, but too often his smile contorts into a smirk, which does ruin things a bit. Tess, Marjorie’s daughter, played by Nancy Carroll, is set up to be the most complex of the characters. People next to me thought Tess was a good person because she gets her mum a Prime so she wouldn’t be alone. Fair enough. I thought Tess was absolutely awful given what transpires toward the end of the play between her and her husband, played by Tony Jayawardena. Carroll tries for a broad range of emotion in different scenes, but comes across as flat and samey. Jayawardena doesn’t have a enough of a character written for this role in order to stretch and make it his own.
Dominic Dromgoole’s direction tries to make the most out of the actors, but everyone except for Reid seems a little fake and disingenuous most of the time, bar Jayawardena in his last scene. The Primes are an interesting, if not a unique, concept to explore, but the play lets the idea down. All the same, I’m delighted at having seen a wonderful performance from Reid.
Cheapskate enjoyment value: £3.
P.S.: One half of the couple sat in front of me was a guy in his early-to-mid-50s covered in tattoos and wearing a baseball cap. It did block my view, especially when he was turning his head back and forth to look at different sides of the stage, but, having missed a chance to ask him to remove it before the show, there wasn’t really a good place mid-play to insist on it. I am baffled by someone wearing a baseball cap at the theatre. Firstly, who wears head gear at a play, especially given less than ideal rake? Secondly, since when do men no longer need to take off their hats indoors? Disappointed at the lack of manners amidst an evening of culture.