Tuesday, 18 March 2008

REVIEW: "Involution"

“No one owes you, no one's to blame
Save for bad genes or DNA
Ask your conscience the why and how
Ask yourself
Ask your mom
Ask DNA”
--Yokko Kanno (Cowboy Bebop Movie OST: Ask DNA)

In a dystopian Britain, the Church has entered politics, sweeping the elections and outlawing genetic engineering. Cybernetics have advanced enough to be a functional medical treatment, but can’t override the mandatory DNA screenings needed to maintain a quality job or provide a long term alternative to genetic wasting diseases.

In response to this, the long suffering and manipulative Cohen (Ben Murray-Watson) is engaged in a mutli-year lawsuit against the government to allow genetic research to proceed. As the stakes rise, Cohen comes up against the equally manipulative Violet (Jane Lesley, also one of the show’s producers) as she hopes to marry his best friend J (Alfie Talman). When Violet states her intentions to marry J, she wants Cohen to reveal the problems hidden in his DNA - problems keeping him from working as a teacher that she can not determine through legal channels.

As Cohen and Violet square off, he also comes to terms with his carefree and equally affected sister Dorcet (Ursula Early) and her evangelical friend Talulah (Sara Pascoe), the latter believing that faith (be it in Jesus or Xenu) will heal her to the point of discarding her medications.

To be fair, the RZ wishes he presented the above as a diagram instead. Playwright Rachel Welch has filled Involution with a plethora of plotlines and timely arguments about the roles of science, faith, government, family, and more in our daily lives to the point where blinking during the second act means missing one of the many keys to unravelling the entire work. While the story rushes to its conclusion in a short 40 minutes, Welch squanders her first act at nearly twice that length, beating the audience over the head with the her argument’s concept stick on the roles religion should play in science and government (read: none). Sub-plots such as Dorcet buying Cohen a sex robot add some humour to this weighty piece, but also mis-use minutes better spent on cleaning up the mess surrounding these engaging yet rather repulsive characters.

The cast, listed above, do their best with the material and seemed to be settling in and finding new and hidden dimensions of the characters when the RZ saw Involution at the end of its run. Victoria Johnstone’s design, a studio flat littered with cupboards and compartments, is a believable area, and one that played well in the Pacific Playhouse’s miniscule space.

While genetics have been a hot topic since Jurassic Park, recent events such as the deaf IVF case serve to remind us of how pervasive science has come in our biological and social developments. Involution attempts to present punters with a look at the consequences of what ceasing such work means, but needs to evolve itself in order to truly inspire a dialogue on the subject at hand.

Where: Pacific Playhouse
When: Closed
How Much: £10
Concessions: £8
RZ Unofficial “Worth Paying”: £8. Festival prices for festival grade work.
RZ Other Thoughts: The cast and director had Q&A sessions after all the shows, and the night the RZ went there were few who stayed but many questions asked. His companion, a non-native speaker followed most of the show well despite its knotted up web of material, but also found the second act (spec. the last 15 minutes) requiring clarification. Given some time with a good dramaturge, Involution has quite a bit of potential, but it’s not there yet.

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