Above: Lucy Bell and Maggie Dence, Right: Lucy Bell and Richard Sydenham. Below right: Jake Speer. Photos by Lisa Tomasetti
By Jordan Harrison
Directed by Mitchell Butel
Ensemble Theatre Production
78 McDougall Street
Season: 15 June – 21 July. Bookings: https://boxoffice.ensemble.com.au or (02) 9929 0644
Jordan Harrison’s Marjorie Prime is a fascinating 80-minute journey into the near future and how we may deal with the issue of memory loss in our ageing loved ones. It raises a lot of questions about the current and future interaction of technology and family. But no answers are provided. Nor should it. For this is a thought-provoker
and lets the audience seek answers in post-theatre conversation.
The action takes place in the home of Marjorie, an 80’s-something atheist whose dementia is wearing down the patience of her daughter Tess. Tess’s husband Jon provides strong support and understanding of Marjory’s memory losses and tries to find ways to help Tess cope. Amongst this scenario is Walter, an amazing creation of technology, a hologram which is tailor-made in the image of Marjory’s departed husband. He appears as a much younger version of her husband and provides great, unjudging company as they reminisce on good times in the past.
However, Walter only remembers information that is fed to him. And so, via an excellently formulated script, we learn all sorts of secrets, cover-ups and challenges in Marjory’s past.
With a simply designed set and only four characters, Mitchell Butel has put his energy into directing his actors in such a way that keeps Marjory centre-stage. Even having Walter with his back to the audience works well in some scenes. Drama is heightened as well by some excellent lighting techniques.
What a talented cast! Maggie Dence leads the way as Marjory. Her command of the role brings the best out of her company and it is clear that she loves this character. A great line that connected with the older audience members really built a bond: “I was born in the 20th century. Be patient with me.”
Tess is played by Lucy Bell. A good, meaty role for her with many polarising dramatic opportunities performed so well. Then there is Richard Sydenham as Jon, the stable, dependable influence who may just be the unsuspecting antagonist, and Jake Speer as Walter. Is he a human, is he a robot? His warm but sometimes deadpan reactions had me wondering. Well done.
Composer Max Lyandvert deserves special mention for his calm but haunting score during set changes.
This is a very different contemporary play. It certainly deals with some sensitive issues around mental health, suicide, and faith. The Ensemble has produced an excellent collusion between writer, director, cast and crew.
If you are looking for a drama that’s a bit quirky and challenging, this production of Marjory Prime will keep you thinking for days afterwards.