The Future is Mental
Reviewed – 20th February 2020
“there is much that is promising and ripe for development”
An anthology which uses the “Black Mirror” idea of exploring “the way we live now – and the way we might be living in ten minutes’ time if we’re clumsy” provides a bleak view of contemporary life at the VAULT Festival.
Rosie de Vekey draws heavily on the successful TV series for inspiration in “The Future Is Mental,” playing at the Network Theatre. The danger of this approach is that it veers towards unoriginality and some of the six short stories presented in this play will seem all too familiar to fans of the twisting Charlie Brooker television tales.
“The Future Is Mental” has a format similar to those classic portmanteau horror movies, where characters receive a grisly comeuppance as a sign of some crime or moral failing (an idea “Black Mirror” has itself attempted on a couple of occasions). The resolutions might not be quite so gruesome here, but all have some dark comment on aspects of modern life.
The most successful offering of the six is “Decluttering,” a short story featuring a woman (a ground-down Suzy de Lezameta) whose controlling, lying and belittling husband (a suitably unpleasant Owain Jones) – decides to tidy up at home, seeking some order in her life. She calls in a declutterer (Anie Hu) whose trademark is helping clients release all the burdensome weight from their shoulders and, while the outcome is hardly a tale of the unexpected, it is told with wit, compassion and a sense of justice.
The other strong piece is “The Other Side” in which two celebrity-seeking sisters (played with deliciously bitchy self-centredness by Kia Dickinson and Lara Lom) live out their lives in the public gaze via social media and a reality TV series. Empty-headed Cat (Dickinson) discovers she has an incurable disease; with a final cry of “Be more unicorn!” she continues to cling onto fame live from the afterlife in a story which gleefully pours scorn on contemporary vacuity.
Also in the mix is an all-too-short monologue from a scarily aware cloud-based smart device controller (“Alexa”) in which Lio Lylark gives voice to a piece of modern technology which is always listening. A longer soliloquy may give a more intriguing plot twist.
“Mood Lighting” is perhaps the most ambitious story with a real capacity for challenge in the area of mental health though is rather underwritten given the shortage of time. A gadget that reflects the emotions can be adapted so that it always shows positive colours – and “you can always pretend to be fine.”
The final story “Three Score and Ten” posits the idea of men only being allowed to live until the age of 70 (a “Logan’s Run” for seniors maybe) but loses direction with its speaker (Emma Byrne) oddly quoting from Scripture to make a point about what people use for political gain, though this doesn’t especially pick up the theme of the tale.
A framing device (“Best Possible Candidate”) of choosing a new Prime Minister in the style of a five-year game show runs out of steam, though Matthew Gill is a suitably flustered host.
A basic set with few props and some simple projection tend to make the whole look somewhat cheap though nobody is credited for any of this design.
With just an hour to play with “The Future Is Mental” struggles with making each of the plays as fully rounded as they might be. The result is a production that often comes across as a student revue of black comedy sketches rather than saying anything significant about many of the issues which others in the VAULT Festival are tackling much better, but there is much that is promising and ripe for development.
Reviewed by David Guest