You know in American sitcoms, when some previously unmentioned theatrical friend forces the lead characters to go to their dire musical, and it’s incredibly embarrassing and nothing makes sense and everyone prances about in shiny catsuits?
Ray Bradbury’s 2116 could be that musical.
The introduction is a typically empty piece of fluff, as we meet Mr Marionette (Steve Josephson) and his handmade robots. Everyone wears terrible white make-up for no apparent reason, which must play havoc with their skin. When you’re concerned about potential outbreaks of acne amongst the cast rather than what they’re singing about, you know that something is already going badly wrong.
The robots painfully walk puppets to the front of the stage in turn, and you’d think that if you were going to include puppetry in a show, you’d teach the cast how to perform with puppets. I once watched a student production of 42nd Street in this very venue, for which they taught a cast of about 50 how to tap dance. If students in an amateur production can learn an entire new dance skill, I would have thought that a cast of professionals could have learnt how to make a puppet wave without jerking the strings with their fingers.
Thankfully the puppet section is short, and next we pay a visit to Mr and Mrs Witcherly (Jonathon Lamer and Lisa Morrice), who commission the puppet master to create robots of themselves when they were younger, so that if one of them dies, the other won’t be alone. Of course, they soon learn that no robot could ever replicate their love for each other.
So far so trite, but next we discover that this isn’t actually a cute musical about old people in love. In fact, this is a group of space rebels, travelling around the galaxy spreading dissent against techno-tyranny, presumably through the medium of soporific theatre.
We learn about the various crimes committed by the troupe over the second half of the show, touching on concerns close to Ray Bradbury’s heart. One man is arrested for going for a walk, since pedestrians aren’t allowed any more. One is a pacifist. One goes around jamming people’s electrical goods, which, to be fair, is pretty much vandalism. In Britain he’d get an ASBO for that.
In this section, we do get the only truly lovely song of the evening, sung by Morrice. Her story seems to be based on Bradbury’s greatest work, Fahrenheit 451, and for once there is a sense of genuine emotion on the stage.
Although the lyrics are in general banal and the book nonsensical, the music by John Hoke is actually very nice, although it does lose a lot by not being performed live. The performers themselves are very good, forcing life into dull, underwritten characters and singing their hearts out on the big numbers. There is also some very accomplished dancing on display.
All in all, 2116 could have been something so much better – if they’d only scrap the plot, the costumes, the lyrics and the puppets. A real shame.
C Plaza, 5-30 Aug (not 17), 9pm
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