New York-born production Machine Makes Man is a hyper-eloquent sci-fi-tinged meditation on technology, love, pop music, failure, cooking, government institutions, and the complicated question of what it means to be human.
Michael McQuillen as Jeffrey Kramer in Machine Makes Man, a play that follows the journry of the Kramers’ life after being introduced to a technological experiment.
Thrown into a crisis of confidence when his wife Milly falls pregnant, mechanic Jeffrey Kramer volunteers for a human trial of so-called “accelerated learning technology”, conducted by the US government’s military technology research institute DARPA, chiefly so that he has something to teach his child “other than car engines”. While Milly is at first reluctant to let Jeffrey to start treatment – which consists of an injection of nanobots into Jeffrey’s bloodstream, as well as “coursework” – his visits to DARPA transform him into an intellectual savant, master chef and carpenter, among other things. Things start to go awry for the Kramers when Jeffrey quits the programme and delves deeper into his existential angst.
Machine’s production is tight and exceptionally clever, with projectors, sound samplers and a very well-utilised disco ball allowing actors Michael McQuilken and Adina Verson to teleport between wildly different and evocative settings. But it’s the writing that stands out most. The script subtly and skilfully juxtaposes the superficial sympathy of the machinations of government with the tenderness of the Kramers’ marriage, and allows Verson in particular to access a breadth of emotion uncommon in many science-fiction texts.
While an unexpectedly-long musical montage threatens to interrupt Machine’s flow, the play is held together by the genuine chemistry between McQuilken and Verson, who double as director and choreographer respectively. Their intimate working knowledge of the text allows what could have been an overwhelming production to breathe, and lets an easy humour develop and provide relief throughout the play’s more philosophically-troubling moments.
Heartwarming, surprising, allegorical, offbeat and fun, Machine Makes Man might turn out to be this Festival’s sleeper hit, in the same way as it took the Amsterdam Fringe Festival by storm last year.
Machine Makes Man, The Hangar, today, 2.30pm
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