R and D is a very sophisticated play. It oozes intelligence, with a plot rich in philosophical and ethical issues couched in beautifully crafted language. The premise of the play is to test how far science and technology can push boundaries in order to develop ever more advanced work. This is a production that embodies everything that is good about theatre.
What are we all on this planet for if not to help each other – to love each other?
This is a very sophisticated play. It oozes intelligence with a plot rich in philosophical and ethical issues couched in beautifully crafted language. Written by Simon Vinnicombe and directed by Nadia Fall, this exquisite piece is currently playing Downstairs at the Hampstead Theatre. The space is well known for showcasing new work of merit – of which R and D is a prime example.
The premise of the play is to test how far science and technology can push boundaries in order to develop ever more advanced work. It is laid over an underpinning theme of human relationships.
Lewis is a man still grieving for his wife when his brother, David, sets him up as a kind of crash test dummy. There is talk of helping Lewis to recover and rejoin life and the carrot of a large sum of money to sweeten the deal. David is to test drive new technology – an Artificial Intelligence in the form of an attractive woman – in which David and his team are seeking to replicate human cognitive functions.
Aden Gillett plays Lewis with sincerity and many layers. His authenticity as an actor shines from the opening scene of a man deep in grief and continues unabated to the end. Lewis is in turn angry and defiant and Gillett conveys a character whose integrity is beyond question. The audience watches as he runs the full gamut of emotions as the test case, peeling away layers to reach a climactic full circle.
Opposite Gillett, Jess Murphy plays the female protaganist April. Murphy finely draws a detailed portrait of what most people can only imagine as a technological possibility. There are moments when the audience, along with Lewis, cannot believe what they know to be true about April, as Murphy nails the blurring line between reality and desired fantasy.
David is a kind of soothsaying real estate agent type. He is definitely manipulating everyone to achieve his objectives and ultimately proves himself to be ruthless and maybe clueless. The audience is left to wonder if he had fully calculated the effect of the R and D project on his brother. Martin Hutson plays David with his customary flair and finesse.
In the role of the teenage daughter, Eva, Ellie Turner provides a counterpoint to the complicated context revolving around Lewis. Her needs and situation are refreshingly simple and normal for a teenager in her position. Eva reacts predictably when faced with the relationship of her father and April. Turner delivers a mature and refreshing portrayal of Eva.
The creative team is headed by Fall who, as director, shows a deep understanding of the piece in its concept and flow. Designer Ben Stone has provided a slightly futuristic looking set with clean lines and good use of space. The provision of a small conservatorium used solely by April, the only non-living character, is an interesting touch. It’s as if the Artificial Intelligence ‘being’ goes there to recharge.
Lighting design by Joshua Gadsby includes some essential tricks in the narrative, and sound by Max Perryment supports the action well. There are times when there is a subtle change in the sound quality to reinforce elements of the unearthly April.
R and D is a gripping story told with skill and artistry. Listening to the audience after the play ended, there was a clear consensus that the play is fascinating and thought provoking.
This is a production that embodies everything that is good about theatre.