The Machine Stops, Belgrade Theatre, until April 8.
Pete Townsend claimed he predicted the internet in the 1972 with Lifehouse.
E.M Forster beat him by 63 years in this short story adapted for the stage by Neil Duffield.
This world premiere staging, by Pilot Theatre and York Theatre Royal Production, is currently on a national tour. It is a true revelation.
Hal 9000, Skynet and the Matrix are all in this dystopian world where technology protects the human race in their underground sanctuary. Even Ted Talks via a Skype style system of communication are foreseen (again top marks to Forster for prescience).
A small but very talented cast create an intense piece of physical theatre that will live in the memory long after the last synth chord has faded.
Indeed the soundtrack composed and performed by John Foxx, with synthesiser specialist, Benge is just one contributory dimension to the experience. Lighting and projection complement the set and whilst the electronic soundtrack supports the Futurist vision, even when its volume was sometimes intrusive at the expense of dialogue.
Movement director Philippa Vafadari is also to be applauded for giving the Machine a genuine physical presence in the form of the two Helpers, Maria Gray and Adam Slynn, who climb and twist through Rhys Jarman’s equally brilliant set.
Their roles required great physicality, slithering around the metal framework that manifested the Machine, interacting with the apparatus and each other.
The other two protagonists, Mother Vashti played by Ricky Butt and her son Kuno, Rohan Nedd, powerfully demonstrate the physical consequences of underground life and give voice to the philosophical debate of what it means to be human that Forster’s short story wished to explore.
As the machine breaks down the dislocation is cleverly displayed by the erratic movement of the Helpers and their out of sync answers in the manner of “your call is important to us” which I think is more Duffield than Forster and certainly resonates with a modern audience.
This piece deserves the widest possible exposure, both for the originality and brilliance of the production and to recognise an aspect of Forster not usually seen in the Merchant Ivory world of his other works.