Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Review: 'Version 2.0' at the Leicester Square Theatre, 27th February 2018

Version 2.0 reviewed by David James
Rating: 3 Stars

Version 2.0 is a very, very strange play. Ostensibly a story about a writer and his robot girlfriend, it quickly proves to be almost entirely concerned with the show's playwright, Kashyap Raja.

Our hero is nano-thinly fictionalised Kashyap 'Kash' Raja (Tim Atkinson), a playwright convinced of his own genius yet struggling with the realities of critics and audiences hating everything he turns out. His creative partner/muse is Karen (Tracey Pickup), who Kash loves yet is too riddled with insecurity to ever make it work. Eventually, she's freaked out by his intense neediness and bails.

Luckily for Kash, there's a company that provides sadsack loners with lifelike female robots that can be shaped into an exact replica of an existing person. Enter Karen 'Version 2.0': a chirpy and compliant pet girlfriend, albeit with a decidedly unsexy childlike personality. But what happens when she grows more perceptive about her lovelorn master's motivations?

A science fiction story about a robot gradually losing its innocence and realising that humans are monsters is fertile (if well-trodden) dramatic territory. But, as stated above, that's not what Version 2.0 is about. Despite stating: "Even when it’s about him, it’s about her"this play is definitely about 'him' i.e. the playwright and his many hangups.

Writing a play about yourself is textbook narcissism and generally leads to very bad theatre. Despite that (and to my surprise) I didn't hate Version 2.0. That's not because it's any good ind you, but because it's transcendentally weird. The show essentially adds up to a furious ninety-minute bout of self-loathing from the writer as he fixates on why he's such a creepy loser scumbag, painstakingly outlining everything ugly and repellent about him.

The end result feels like a script forced out under a dominatrix's riding crop. "Slave, say you're a shitty writer" *WHAP* "Urgh, I'm a shitty writer!" "Slave, tell the audience you spend all day wanking." *WHAP* "Oh god it's true I do wank a lot!" *WHAP* "Slave, crawl on the ground like the degenerate worm you are!" *crawls pathetically* *WHAP* *WHAP* *WHAP* *WHAP* *guttural mewling noises*.

By the time this wrapped up (incidentally without even a glimmer of a happy ending or any kind of redemption) I was bewildered. What kind of grotesque monsters must be squatting inside Raja's head for him to first write this play, then stage it before a paying audience? 

My best guess is that this is theatre as therapy - spilling his guts all over the stage in an attempt to purge all that he despises within himself. Perhaps by externalising everything he hates into a fictional 'Kashyap Raja' he can exorcise himself, moving forward with a clean slate. 

As I left, I was seriously wondering whether 'Kashyap Raja' was some obscure theatrical joke to which I'd missed the punchline. The play is so freakin' odd that it could easily work as a satire on self-obsessed, navel-gazing writers. However, after checking, I have been assured that Raja is indeed a genuine flesh and blood human being who actually wrote this play. God help him.

I should also say that Tim Atkinson and Tracey Pickup acquit themselves very well within this masochistic-torture-device-as-theatre, hurling themselves with giddy abandon into Raja's manic hurricane of looping dialogue and janky iambic pentameter. 

Version 2.0 is definitely not good theatre. But fortunately, it's an acceptable freakshow. Arguably this kind of thing should be done behind the closed doors of a therapist's office rather than in front of a paying audience, but hey, if a guy wants to psychologically self-harm on stage for an hour and a half for my amusement who am I to argue? I hesitate to outright recommend this, but it's safe to say you won't see anything else quite this bonkers anytime soon.

Version 2.0 is at the Leicester Square Theatre until 3rd March. Tickets here.

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