tue 25/06/2024

Minority Report, Lyric Hammersmith Theatre review - ill-judged sci-fi | reviews, news & interviews

Minority Report, Lyric Hammersmith Theatre review - ill-judged sci-fi

Minority Report, Lyric Hammersmith Theatre review - ill-judged sci-fi

Philip K Dick’s science fiction short story fares far better on screen

Jodie McNee in 'Minority Report'Images - Marc Brenner

Towards the end of David Haig’s new adaptation of Philip K Dick’s 1956 science fiction short story, someone asks if three humans who have been symbiotically connected to a massive AI computer for a decade can survive the experience.

Yes, she’s told, “if they stop surrendering their neurons to the organoid.” Just when I’d assumed the script could not get any more infuriating, I’m offered a line that wouldn’t have been out of place in Flash Gordon

Actually, this show may have benefitted from a little of that film's camp. Sadly it’s a noisy, frantic, heavy-handed spin on a typically masterful Dick conceit, which was adapted with just as much licence but to much greater effect by Steven Spielberg in 2002, with Tom Cruise as the future-cop at the heart of the action. 

The production reaches the Lyric Hammersmith via Nottingham Playhouse and Birmingham Rep. It’s directed by Max Webster, whose set, lighting and video designers work their socks off to offer a beautifully rendered future, with echoes less of Spielberg than another Dick adaptation, Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner. But this isn’t a film. And Webster’s amped-up direction – reaching its nadir with some bizarrely choreographed chase scenes – simply overpowers a text that isn’t fit to purpose in the first place. (Pictured below, Jodie McNee, Nick Fletcher and company)There’s no doubting the ethically and narratively twisty premise. In the near future, society has developed Precrime, a predictive policing system that uses "precogs", three barely functional but clairvoyant humans, to identify people who are about to commit a murder – sometimes before the idea even enters their heads. These people are promptly and aggressively arrested, nipping the crime in the bud.

Along with genuine, cold-hearted killers, the new detention centres are filled with luckless folk denied the benefit of the doubt, second thoughts or, even, to chicken out at the last minute. The streets are safer; but at what cost?

And then the boss of Precrime is surprised to find himself identified as a future killer. He  goes on the run, determined to prove his innocence; but to do that, he must show that his beloved system can, actually, get it wrong. 

Haig diverges from both Dick and Spielberg in setting his story in the UK, and in making his protagonist a woman, and a neuroscientist rather than a cop. It’s 2050. To celebrate 10 years of her creation, the smooth, smug Dame Julia Anderton (Jodie McNee) is giving a flashy presentation to investors, as she hopes to seal a lucrative partnership with the US. But her confidence is punctured when, mid-presentation of the Precrime process, her own name pops out of the printer. 

While adhering to the premise, the ethical questions it raises and the combination of manhunt and mystery, Haig seems to be going out of his way to refashion the material for his audience; and it’s this unnecessary urge that mostly leads to the play's clumsiness. 

Haig’s Precrime now involves every citizen in society having a chip installed in their heads that constantly scans their brain patterns for aggressive impulses – a more graspable notion than precogs, perhaps, but also more clunkily obvious; and why still include precogs in the mix, tacked on in a manner that’s ludicrous even in this context. 

References to specific, though not generally familar London locations, or the Apple Watch, or Alexa, are wink-wink touches that are distracting and disrupt the piece’s universality. There’s a forced nature, too, to the dialogue and hysterical emotions; even such trite details as log-ins and passwords are spoken, digit for digit, in some horrible attempt at emphasis. 

After this experience, anyone could be forgiven for feeling a little aggressive. I've certainly surrendered some neurons of my own.

Comments

Spot on!  To me it was like a panto version of Doctor Who. Brilliant effects could not overcome the banality.

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