Elderly Lifestyle Boost with Artificial Intelligence
“Honesty the secret weapon of the elderly.”
Marjorie Prime is set in 2062 and 85 year old Marjorie (Anne Reid) is living with her daughter Tess (Nancy Carroll) and her husband Jon (Tony Jayawardena). I remember in the 1980s the charity, Age Exchange set up in Blackheath a Reminiscence Project to help people with failing memories. Age Exchange found that often old people had crystal clear memories of their young lives and relating their stories made them feel valued for their living history recollection and not so worried about where they put their teeth that morning.
Coming forward eighty years in America, Tess and Jon are using a hologram of Marjorie’s now deceased husband to make her feel better and more easily manageable living with them. The holograms, generated by a computer programme that can be primed with their memories, which are sometimes sourced from old letters, photos and diaries. The hologram is a young and handsome memory of Marjorie’s husband, Walter (Richard Fleeshman) who has been programmed to be kind and supportive.
Together Marjorie and Walter look out towards the sea and recall taking Toni the poodle for walks on the beach. Marjorie was a violinist and they play Vivaldi to her. They talk about another suitor of Marjorie’s, Jean Paul reputedly a handsome professional tennis player number eight in the rankings, but remind Marjorie that she chose Walter as her companion, not the Frenchman. “French Canadian!” she says derisorily.
Jonathan Fensom’s set is a wood panelled living room cum kitchen with large picture windows showing sea and sky with clouds moving by day and stars in the sky at night as they look out and wonder if there will be an afterlife and what form it will take, if any at all. Blinds meet coming both up and down across the windows. When the hologram is not in use it is impassive in the wings. At one point, imitating Alexa or Siri, Walter says amusingly, “I don’t have that information.”
Jordan Harrison’s parents used old-fashioned journal keeping to help his grandmother through her muddled final years. He tried to incorporate the experience of his own family into this play tackling the losses of aging, death, and humanity through the lens of ever more sophisticated artificial intelligence. What Jordan Harrison’s play does very well is to bring out family secrets and tensions, of sibling rivalry and of a disconnect between mother and daughter over two generations. Tess and Marjorie are in dispute over peanut butter. Marjorie detests it but Tess wants her to eat it. I didn’t catch why? Tess gets angry when she finds Marjorie has a Bible left for her by a home help.
Of course the information provided to the holographic Primes is lacking some of the more painful issues, so the companionship may feel two dimensional but the humans are real. Anne Reid is excellent as the softly spoken Marjorie with odd moments of spikiness. Her daughter Tess played by Nancy Carroll is prickly and losing patience with her mother. Tess is only too ready to deflate any rose tinted memories her mother may have. Tony Jayawardena as Jon is charming and caring to both women. Richard Fleeshman has the stiffness of a tailor’s dummy.
I have revealed only a very small amount of the plot but I was intrigued by the subject matter and the intelligent, naturalistic direction from Dominic Dromgoole. I really enjoyed this stimulating play and highly recommend seeing it.
Written by Jordan Harrison
Directed by Dominic Dromgoole
Director: Dominic Dromgoole
Designer: Jonathan Fensom
Lighting Designer: Emma Chapman
Sound Designer: David Gregory
Running Time: 85 minutes without an interval
Booking to 6th May 2023
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Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge at the
Chocolate Factory on 15th March 2023