Pluto at the Barbican
A robot’s sole purpose is to be useful to humans. But what possible use could humans be to robots? Could it be that there is worth in the intensity and the indomitability of our emotions… such as hatred? Is it our imperfections that let us achieve what perfect robots cannot? In this sprawling, ambitious and tightly stylised show, what it means to be human is the central question.
Based on the post-war Japanese comic book series Astro Boy, Urusawa and Nagasaki’s Pluto has been treated to a new reading courtesy of Flemish-Moroccan choreographer Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui alongside Bunkamura Theatre Cocoon. The show is performed in Japanese with English surtitles. A bold set brings a larger-than-life comic book, in a constant state of flux, to the stage. There are elements of noh theatre and manga, towering puppets and a hundred different uses of projection.
The tale follows Inspector Gesicht, a highly advanced humanoid robot investigating a string of robot murders. He meets Atom, a still more advanced AI who’s capable of feeling emotions just like a human. Together they try to work out how it’s possible that a functioning machine without any defects has been able to kill. A generous helping of philosophy balances a gritty, involved storyline, resulting in a show that’s uniformly engrossing.
A posse of dancers spread like a halo around each robot character, denoting the algorithms and mechanical wizardry bringing each one to life. Threaded through this are moments of astonishing, fluid contemporary dance that showcase Cherkaoui’s award-winning choreography as well as the mesmeric agility of the performers.
Pluto is a celebration of theatre as spectacle. Beyond that, its musings on being human are timeless while also offering a perspective on a technologically advanced future that might soon be more than just the fodder of comic books and sci-fi. Don’t miss this multimedia phenomenon about robots’ quest to harness humanity’s most troublesome trait. There’s nothing else like it on the London stage.
Photos: Naoki Urasawa, Takashi Nagasaki, Tezuka Productions
Watch the trailer for Pluto here: