The UK premiere of Jordan Harrison’s acclaimed play Marjorie Prime has opened at the Menier Chocolate Factory in London.
Directed by Dominic Dromgoole, the cast features Olivier Award winner Nancy Carroll (After the Dance) as Tess, stage and screen star Anne Reid (Last Tango in Halifax, The Mother) as her mother Marjorie, Richard Fleeshman (Company, Ghost The Musical) as Marjorie’s AI companion Walter, and Tony Jayawardena (The Father and The Assassin, England People Very Nice, East is East) as Jon.
The creative team for the show also includes Set & Costume Designer Jonathan Fensom, and Lighting Designer Emma Chapman.
Jordan Harrison was a 2015 Pulitzer Prize finalist for Marjorie Prime, and the play explores the mysteries of human identity and the limits – if any – of what technology can replace.
Marjorie Prime is playing at the Menier Chocolate Factory from 3 March to 6 May 2023.
Read reviews highlights from the London theatre critics, including the Evening Standard, The Times and The Telegraph. More reviews to follow.
Marjorie Prime reviews
"Anne Reid is magnificent"
"Marjorie Prime offers stimulating ideas and some great acting, but it’s not a great play"
"Though talky and static as a piece of drama, Jordan Harrison’s Pulitzer-nominated 2014 play is an intriguing meditation on ageing, death and Artificial Intelligence. Dominic Dromgoole’s coolly understated production features performances to relish from the magnificent Anne Reid... and from Evening Standard Award winner Nancy Carroll"
"Where Walter is emotionless, merely absorbing and conveying information, Marjorie’s daughter Tess (Carroll) is a bundle of repressed anger, guilt and frustration. Tony Jayawardena as her husband Jon adds warmth and compassion to what might otherwise be an arid emotional brew."
"Marjorie Prime offers stimulating ideas and some great acting, but it’s not a great play."
"Prescient but excessively austere drama about a future in which deceased loved ones return as AI replicas"
"It’s an aggressively austere and in many ways astoundingly prescient drama about a near future in which people recreate their deceased loved ones as AI avatars called ‘Primes’."
"The conversation is a disconcerting mix of nostalgic reminiscence, therapy session and confessional, with Richard Fleeshman giving great uncanny valley as Walter: perma smiling and friendly, but ultimately disconcertingly lacking in emotion. He often hits the walls of his programmed knowledge, and demands more."
"It’s also well-acted, particularly Reid, who gives a smartly dissembling performance as Marjorie, who is, in many ways, far less fragile than her daughter. In the end, though, I don’t think compelling ideas are enough to see it through. It feels both too short and too static, a lack of meat on the characters’ bones running up against the glacial stillness of the scenes."
"Anne Reid and Nancy Carroll are brilliant in a dystopian fantasy"
"What Harrison has given us is a thought-provoking miniature that doesn’t quite generate the dramatic tension you hope for."
"The power of Dominic Dromgoole’s sleek production lies in the quality of the performances. Eighty-seven-year-old Anne Reid is utterly convincing as Marjorie, an American matriarch slowly descending into a form of dementia; the eyes twinkle as she stares into mid-distance. Nancy Carroll goes one better as her daughter Tess, who looks on with a mixture of pain and resentment as she ponders a relationship that has been far from easy."
"Towards the end Harrison leads us into a hall of mirrors where it is hard to tell the difference between humans and their opposite numbers. It all happens too quickly, too neatly. But I was utterly transfixed by Carroll’s slow disintegration. The anguish on her face etched itself into my memory."
"A fascinating AI fable that could do with an upgrade"
"This revival of Jordan Harrison's unnerving Pulitzer-shortlisted drama is welcome, even if a little rewiring could add to its impact"
"One striking thing about Marjorie Prime, a Pulitzer-shortlisted American drama by Jordan Harrison, first staged in 2014 and now getting its UK premiere, is that it’s not mind-blowing. The “What if?” of yesteryear has become “What will happen when…?”. "
"Reid impressively delineates the psychological grey-zone between calm acceptance and lurking apprehension, combining a compos mentis grasp of Walter’s simulated nature with an irrational, if relatable, politesse and solicitude. There are shades of Florian Zeller’s The Father, but full anguish is kept out of sight."
"It’s a satisfyingly understated and well-played evening, albeit a rather cheerless one. I’d recommend it but would also advise an upgrade next time. Given the power of music and that virtual assistants like Alexa are here to stay, a prime selection of relevant numbers wouldn’t hurt, countering the chill spectre of algorithms with rhythms that bypass our emotional firewalls."
"Anne Reid skewers the cruelty of mother-daughter bonds"
"The Last Tango in Halifax star plays a woman who gets an AI companion in Jordan Harrison’s dextrous play"
"You will spot the plot twists coming a mile away in Jordan Harrison’s play about artificial intelligence... Yet despite this slew of reasons to reject it, there’s a cerebral dexterity and humane lightness that can’t help but make this play a success. Stick with it and you’ll understand why it won Harrison a Pulitzer nomination in 2015. Slowly, Marjorie Prime inveigles the mind."
"Two factors give this production lift off, despite its clunky building blocks. Firstly, former Globe director Dromgoole has assembled a top-tier cast. Nancy Carroll gives a blistering performance as Tess..."
"The second factor is Harrison’s ability to layer ideas upon ideas so gradually that we don’t realise how many intellectual questions we’re absorbing. This is a play about how memory shapes our sense of self; about the costs of love; about our hold over our children – and yes, about artificial intelligence."
"Anne Reid anchors this overly cosy AI play"
"Jordan Harrison’s gentle vision of an android-filled future feels too even-handed"
"It’s a strange, slightly outdated choice of play for Dominic Dromgoole (former artistic director of Shakespeare’s Globe and Bush Theatre) to pick for his first stage production in years. Still, it offers a thoughtful meditation on ageing and loss, laced with a little sci-fi eeriness."
"Last Tango in Halifax star Anne Reid is the warm beating heart of this show as 85-year-old Marjorie: she’s wonderfully ribald, full of life, and anything but pitiable as she lives with dementia."
"Anne Reid stars in chilly sci-fi drama"
"Thoughtful if slightly sterile contemplation on family, memory and mortality"
"Walter’s function is to soothe grief and enhance well-being, and if Marjorie’s daughter Tess (Nancy Carroll) finds the Prime creepy, he does at least deter her confused mother from endlessly asking where the real Walter is, forcing Tess to break the news of her father’s death every day. But a defining, tragic chapter of family history is missing from Marjorie’s memories, and deliberately omitted from her interactions with the device. It’s a painful distortion of events, and a negation of trauma, which causes Tess’ relationships with both Marjorie and her devoted husband Jon (Tony Jayawardena) to glitch and buffer."
"This is thoughtful writing, shrewdly staged. But like the Primes that wait, motionless and gently glowing, until their next restart, it’s bloodless."
"Gently uncanny sci-fi shows us how to love an AI"
"Anne Reid shines in this delicately written drama about a woman with dementia living with a robot re-creation of her late husband as a young man"
"The writing is far more delicate in the moments where the AI can truly serve the living, as when Walter offers Marjorie a happy memory she’d long since forgotten."
"Reid’s Prime may be less convincingly robotic than the others, but as the real, breathing Marjorie, she is a delight; charming and cutting and wonderfully pleased with herself as she asks whether the doctor she was flirting with was flirting back."
"Nancy Carroll and Anne Reid surf memory and identity"
"Something happens in Nancy Carroll’s face that I have not seen before. It seems to melt, to lose definition: to move gradually but irrevocably from sceptical poise to an anxious blur. It would almost be worth going to see Marjorie Prime for that alone."
"Dominic Dromgoole’s elegant new production"
"Interesting dilemmas about identity are raised: how much can you forget and still be yourself?... Yet though enhanced by Jonathan Fensom’s clever design, in which blue skies turn to fathomless constellations, the action intrigues rather than involves, unfolding skilfully but mechanically."