FringeReview UK 2023
Adrift, is a relatively new sci-fi thriller – greeting the floorboards of Space’s intimate theatre in Canary Wharf, after a successful reception at Camden Fringe Festival this year. Konstancja Kendall not only plays Ada and Amanda in effortless duality, but also has produced the script for Adrift. Bringing this vision to life is the director Lewis Maines – What a force to watch out for on the circuit of new and up-coming talent.
What to expect? At the centre of this story is the main protagonist Eli played by Alfie Ford, who dominates our attention from the beginning – Once man, but now simply reduced to animalistic wants, needs; as he struggles to connect to certain memories venturing into his conscious. Everything has been stripped back – no luxuries here – As Eli tries to muster some sense of a routine; as he remains stranded in his insignificant minimalistic craft bubble. Groundhog Day, is everyday. What Eli isn’t prepared for is the miracle of a possible ‘chance’ at meeting another human again, as he believes all of his crew to be deceased after spending eleven long months on his own in complete solitude. However, will he take this opportunity or succumb to an alternative proposition from his AI virtual mentor – Ada? Adrift takes you on many twists and turns, that enforces us to reflect on the lengths a person will go to, to return back to some form of humanity: no matter what the cost. Surviving radiation and questioning one’s identity can only go so far, until risks seize to unveil as Eli allows another being to enter his craft – blissfully unaware of the disastrous consequences ahead.
This was the last run at The Space Theatre, however the company have plans to perform at The King’s Head Theatre next year! You may also catch them at Edinburgh Fringe.
Venue: Space, Canary Wharf
As you enter the theatre, lighting is sparse, intimate, with a sense of walking into a very bleak existence as an unknown character is present on stage – a few items scarcely placed indicates a life of minimal fulfilment – no real sense of identity in this space, no real sense of a home. Just a few tin buckets, and some empty beer cans – Is this a prison or a squat? It soon becomes apparent that this is where Eli (performed by Alfie Ford) spends his time and has done so since a pronounced explosion killing – to his knowledge – all crew on board. What soon becomes apparent is Eli’s animalistic style of living, no real sense of joy is seen within his daily routine or how he presents himself, just a sense of battling with radiation and the will to continue; the ‘flight or fight’ response. What becomes amusing and what seems to lift Eli’s spirits, is Ford’s interactions with his AI mentor Ada (played by Konstancja Kendall). Ada of course is simply software built into this aircraft, her identity and ability to advise Eli has remained intact since the explosion – navigating him through his melancholy and hiding anything that will cause him harm, a constant presence of 24 hours of supervision. At this point in the performance we know little of Eli’s background, as most of his behaviours seem to reflect a shadow of his former self, with slight glimpses to tactile intimacies he once enjoyed as we see Ford slowly dance in hold on his own to “ My Melancholy Baby, by Gene Austin”– further signifying his urge and desire to have intimacy with another human again.
The thrust staging choice by Lewis Maines compelled the audience to see this internal craft compartment through the ever watching lens of Ada, feeling very up close and personal. No stone unturned, so many beautiful details in the directing here, allowing the audience to hone in on Eli’s every breath – each regurgitation of alcohol and disapproving frown, feeling barely a metre away in this closely acquainted audience.
Where the pace of this story really takes a swift change, is the moment Ada informs Eli that there is life on another pod that survived the explosion. Initially, Ford plays out the mixed emotions for what this would mean for Eli’s existence – Human contact and the notion of what this would look/feel like again. However there’s a complication, Ada informs Eli that she would want to ‘feel’ like a human and to take over this person’s body in the floating pod and become Eli’s companion in the flesh! What begins to transpire is how comfortable Eli is with manipulating this turn of events to suit ‘his’ needs and ‘his’ needs only. When the risk of floating into the sun becomes more and more his reality, what does he have to lose if Ada uses this unknown soul as her vessel to love and be loved by Eli in reality? But this isn’t any ‘unknown soul’, this is Amanda, a woman who Eli has history with that he would definitely want to eradicate from everyone’s memory – including his own. So, in a split decision he gives his blessing for Ada to destroy the essence of Amanda, programming herself straight into the warm blood of Amanda’s body. Harsh to say the least!
At this point, I was truly impressed by Kendall’s entrance to the stage space as a physical entity as the ‘new Ada’, we have all seen actors mimic robots for split seconds on stage, but her interpretation was beautifully haunting – baring resemblance to Brigette Helm’s interpretation of Hel’s robotic form in Fritz Laing’s Metropolis. This notion of wanting to imitate human life precisely rather than with feeling. There were some beautiful sentiments here – When Ada tries to mirror the actions of Eli eating for the first time, to ‘how’ to place her arms around his body. I would have enjoyed seeing more moments like this – We do live in a world where AI is taking over but perhaps, there are still certain behaviours that have to be learnt with humane feelings? Ford sustained his despair in sheer bewilderment for Eli’s new chance at love, having the ‘appearance’ of an old flame with the ‘personality’ of a crafted personality that would serve and do as he wished. This soon took a more sinister turn, as slowly his tenderness turns into the objectification of Ada – placing her back on ‘charge’ when he is done with her for the day. This felt chillingly uncomfortable. How long will this set up last? Will Ada want more from Eli as she develops supposed ‘feelings?’ Will the actions of Eli inevitably catch up with him?
At points the narrative has fleeting pacing, with some unnecessary additions – Ada, cutting her skin to test for her ‘feelings’ of pain. Although this idea was an harrowing concept, the endless blood took away from the story for me, having less impact – more time was spent cleaning the stage than absorbing the image of what Ada had done to her body, and this should be the focus. As both the characters come into conflict, it would have been fulfilling to hear more of the past that haunts Eli’s character – I won’t spoil the context of his history with Amanda, that said – I would have liked more of a character arc for Eli in this moment. With this said, there is so much content to celebrate in this story from the sophisticated script writing, to the carefully placed blocking which elevated this performance in to a thought-provoking tale of the human condition.
What is captivating about this performance is the fact that, Kendall and Ford keep their audience right where they want them throughout the course of the one hour and ten minute run. With any duologue performance, it may be hard for the actors to ‘keep’ their audiences intrigued for the whole duration – but not in this case. Both actors fully committed to the out of space experience with sheer gravitas, never for one second alluding to the fact that they are anywhere else. This comes with unwavering commitment to the roles and carefully placed movement and facilitation of the actors on stage, from Maines.
Hagstone Theatre company are definitely a group to follow, hoping to tour Adrift, next stop The King’s Head Theatre, followed by Edinburgh Fringe. Despite not being a sci-fi buff I thoroughly enjoyed the writing and direction of this piece – I was fully invested in the acting – waiting for the illusion of this beautiful pairing to come caving in from the waist side! I am now fully converted to sci-fi thanks to Hagstone’s compelling story!