Spillikin at the Pleasance Theatre
The initial draw of Pipeline Theatre’s Spillikin, a Love Story is its functioning humanoid robot. It comprises an expressive face, a body encasing flashing LEDs and wires, and disarmingly nuanced movement capability: no surprise from this innovative theatre company whose blend of design and performance have become their signature.
Such an impressive prop could risk overshadowing the rest of the play, but in Pipeline’s capable hands it complements a tender script, mesmerising acting and thoughtful set design.
The bot is a specially designed carer to Sally (played heartbreakingly by Judy Norman), who is gradually succumbing to Alzheimer’s. It was created by her AI-obsessed husband, Raymond, for this purpose. Each time she wonders aloud where her husband has gotten to, the robot attempts to calm and comfort her with games and – when that fails – with memories.
Interspersed with the present-day action (and here “present” means 2029) are sequences from the past. Sally looks wistfully on as her young romance with Raymond plays out, from the first flirtation to their wedding reception in a Wimpy. As memory and reality merge, the increasingly lengthier vignettes suck the audience ever deeper into the flashback action until we feel the wrench of leaving them, like being woken from dreaming.
The robot was created by Will Jackson, director of Engineered Arts Ltd and a friend of Pipeline’s. It replicates human movement and facial expression thanks to the thousands of cues loaded onto its onboard computer. In the most innocuous of voices, the robot’s questions span the scale from the light “would you like to play a game?” to the loaded “we could talk about our wedding”. The play manages to avoid over-sentimentality, though; the bot never transcends machine status into murky semi-sentient territory.
Jude Munden and Alan Munden’s set subtly highlights Sally’s descent towards oblivion. Books gradually disappear from the once fully stocked shelves that create the play’s backdrop. Stunning projected footage bathes the stage in colour and warmth.
Jon Welch has a gift for scripts that are human and charmingly detailed. As with his others (Streaming, Transports, Swivelhead), the fatalistic heartache of time moving on is explored with poignancy. There’s a painful helplessness born of inevitability, as clear when young Raymond announces he’s going to university as when present-day Sally begins losing words from her vocabulary.
Spillikin is a tale told with warmth, sensitivity and a shiny dose of the futuristic. Again, Pipeline shows us that life’s brevity and fragility only make it all the more precious.
Spillikin is at the Pleasance Theatre from 7th until 19th March 2017, for further information or to book visit here.
Watch the trailer for Spillikin here: