Marjorie Prime review: AI comes to the theatre

Ostensibly a play about ageing and dementia, it is actually an undercover science fiction tale of artificial intelligence, memory, data trapping and engineered immortality. It also explores human comfort in the face of loss.

Marjorie (Anne Reid) lives in a discreetly stylish apartment with her young husband Walter (Richard Fleeshman), her spiky daughter Tess (Nancy Carroll) and Tess’s patient husband Jon (Tony Jayawardena).

At least, that’s how it appears.

Walter is in fact a replicant, fashioned from his younger self after the original Walter died.

This android provides companionship for Marjorie, though Tess must do the work of caring for her mother as well as – in a nice parallel – feeding information both to her amnesiac mother and Walter’s digital memory bank.

Time moves on and Tess and Jon are left alone with Marjorie. She seems to require less care and is blankly content to discuss with Tess unresolved issues in their relationship, including a dead sibling.

Under Dominic Dromgoole’s deceptively insouciant direction, Jordan Harrison’s subtle and insinuating play walks a fine line between gentle reassurance and sinister speculation.

The evergreen Reid is superb, delivering different aspects of Marjorie with bone-dry humour.

Similarly, Carroll’s Tess pulses with suppressed pain (“Living is a distraction from death”) occasionally unleashed in tears of rage and frustration.

In entirely different roles, Jayawardena and Fleeshman are wholly convincing.

A delicate, invasive play whose understated emotional impact lingers long after the end.

Menier Chocolate Factory until May 6 Tickets: 020 7378 1713

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