Marjorie Prime, review of the Menier chocolate factory

Harrison’s feature developments have become increasingly mainstream, particularly the recent rise of the chatbot as an information artisan; mini-robots are even being developed as “carers”. What Marjorie Premier Probing, however, ultimately seems less literal and far more cumbersome than whether computerized tools are suited to the latter role. It’s a measly 80-minute trip to the heart of a modern dilemma.

The play opens with a conversation between 85-year-old Marjorie (Anne Reid) and Walter (Richard Fleeshman), a permanently smiling young man in a sharp suit. Marjorie’s elegant lounge (design by Jonathan Fensom) overlooks the sea; she appears to be well off, though the room is surprisingly poor in personal effects. As his mental state changes, the view through the window changes too, from complete fog to a melodramatic sunset that bathes the interior in an eerie orange light (the excellent lighting is d ‘Emma Chapman).

As the conversation between Marjorie and Walter progresses, it becomes clear that she suffers from some form of dementia. It’s also clear that he’s not her husband Walter, and he’s not human either. It’s a fact he doesn’t disguise, openly admitting from the start that he’s only as good as the information he holds (what the IT world called Gigo: trash in, trash out): “I the air of the one I am talking to.” We later learn that he is from a company called Senior Serenity.

What Walter has in his memory comes from the memories of his clients, the knowledge accumulated through his meetings with Marjorie and her daughter Tess (Nancy Carroll) and her son-in-law John (Tony Jayawardena). Together they created a stored history of Marjorie’s life for Walter to reference in his conversations with her: her career as a violinist, her marriage to Walter (“my best lover”, who died 10 years earlier), their two dogs, both named Toni, and their son Damien. There is also his admirer, Jean-Paul, who carried a torch for him for 50 years, it seems.

What Marjorie does and does not remember, her slip into oblivion, is however not the point of the play. As it unfolds, it addresses a big epistemological question: how do we know what we know? How much do we trust our memories? How much do we trust other people’s memories?

Tess seems to have had a rocky relationship with her mother and can’t talk about her brother. His own mental imbalance is becoming more and more evident. It’s a wonderful performance from Nancy Carroll: airy yet snappy, hinting at the dark currents beneath her surface skill. She can’t find common ground with her mother, but whose fault is it? She goes from annoyance to concern in no time. When her brother is mentioned, her quicksilver face conveys a chilling sense of tragedy. Her husband, meanwhile, a bear of a man with a soothing view of common sense, is left to run the family show; Jayawardena has the full measure of her stunning goodness.

At the center of this small universe, Marjorie is a gift of a role for Anne Reid, who can milk every line for the right degree of pathos, or outright comedy (you wouldn’t expect the phrase “French Canadian” to be a great laugh line). She is both a dignified, wasp matriarch and a difficult and restless patient, particularly bitchy towards Tess. man of flesh (right picture), too, hits two bases at once. It’s a model of how to play an android: not too obviously robotic but not too obviously humanized either. Dominic Dromgoole leads with a steady hand.

Saying more about the plot could seriously spoil you. The action glides smoothly to a calm but shocking conclusion. When finished, you can still feel the weight of his worries and note how much more alarming they have become, perhaps, since Harrison wrote the article. Over the past decade, we have learned that technology allows us to spread untruths widely and have them accepted as true. But the piece also suggests that the mediation of “truth” may be an inevitable consequence of our desire to create a version of it we can live with. Is our whole story fake news?