Edinburgh Fringe 2013
"Expiration Date takes place 100 years in the future, where life as we know it is radically different. Our protagonist Mildred wants to expire on her 150th birthday but her family and friends try to convince her to transition into another entity, a People-Pod. Arguments ensue for and against this new form of life and future living. Albert, her son, is the most vocal about wanting her to join Arthur (her husband and his father) as a People-Pod in order to keep the family intact. Old friends, Burt and Alice join in, adding elements of complexity and surprise."
Written by Rose-Marie Brandwein, directed by Cheryl King and set 100 years in the future, this is science fiction theatre at the Edinburgh Fringe.
It’s Mildred’s 150th birthday and she is tired of life. Set a hundred years from now, this is a science fiction play that explores a technocratic future, where we can ‘transition’ our life into an immortal, but virtual existence. Indeed, in this imagined world, it is the only thing to do, though some still hold back. One of the is Mildred, a woman with loss in her past, still believing in, and physically holding onto the beauty of physical existence.
"Don’t you want to be on top form ?" "I don’t want to be on any form."
This is a comedy, based on a set up scenario: Mildred is still rooted to the physical world, and her virtual family are waiting for her to "transition" to join them. But is that what Mildred really wants?
Jean Brookner’s Mildred reminds me of Heiniein’s Lazarus in Time Enough for Love – a near immortal, tired of life. A lot of the humour reminded me of Kurt Vonnegut. Robert Calvert’s "Mirror, Mirror" also comes to mind. In places this imagined future reminds me of much of the visionary fiction of the sixties and seventies.
There’s plenty of wry humour to be found in a play that creatively imagines a future of annoying relatives on screen and a not quite human surrogate child. Characters on TV monitors are acted out before us but the staging of this bemused me a bit, with sound coming from a room offstage with a door open so we could see the actors offstage. Whatever the intenton of this was, it felt a bit unhinged from the live action in front of us.
There are some intriguing and brilliant ideas – the replication of sensation through memory; the loss of catharsis through automation. The writer has offered us a future that allows for dark comedy in its portrayal in theatre. She also sets up a polarity between physical and virtual, and we are left with the question of whether this is a future we would want for oursevles and our own families. The author writes well and the piece flows in a way that creates accessible drama.
Now, to the staging: Using TV monitors, in a play set so far into the future, dates the play unnecessarily. It may have been a budget issue, but it didn’t help the suspension of disbelief needed to immerse in this world. There’d be holograms in her world – why are these people presetned to us on a clunky TV screen ? They have GPS in this future but why would GPS – an already dating technology, survive when a baked cake can come from a pill ? Science fiction is about suspending disbelief. We mustn’t start to doubt that suspension durinf the story. And I started to.
The piece also doesn’t look visually believable in the chosen theatre space, which is more akin to a Victorian drawing room. We need a black box space here, or a proper set. Staging it in the round was a skilfull choice though and added to the intimacy of the piece.
That said, there’s much to ignite the interest here. We are offered a chilling dystopian vision of wonderfully grotesque virtual relatives, cyborg surrogates and stagnant technology. There’s plenty of wry comedy and a suitable ending to leave us pondering and affected.
Who decides whether and how we live or die ? The human or the technostructure ? A big question to pose for an hour play. By the end more questions arise than are answered, but it is all very engaging and the whole enterprise is bold and well worth seeing. The acting is of a high standard and you won’t see anything else quite like it on the Fringe this year.