MINORITY REPORT

★★★★

_REVIEW.   it’s about _THEATRE.   words _KYLE PEDLEY.
  at _BIRMINGHAM REP.   tickets _OFFICIAL SITE.   booking until _6th APR.

March 26, 2024

images © Marc Brenner.

When is an adaptation not really an adaptation at all?

At what point does inspiration transcend into its own unique identity?

Something of a lofty open, perhaps, but they’re fascinating quandaries that hum through the core of David Haig’s new staged production of Minority Report, which opened at the Birmingham Rep this past week (itself a co-production between the Rep, Nottingham Playhouse and Lyric Hammersmith).

Many will be at least aware of the 1956 sci-fi novella of the same (if slightly elongated) name by Philip K. Dick. Further still will likely be familiar with the Steven Spielberg and Tom Cruise Hollywood outing of 2002. Haig’s new stage incarnation inherits the very broadest of strokes and concepts of Dick’s novel (and Spielberg’s subsequent flick) but fashions them into something quite decidedly of its own.

Whereas the original short story throbbed with Cold War anxieties of paranoia, authoritarianism and conspiracy, Haig’s revisit lands in an age of artificial intelligence, political mistrust, deep fakes… and apple watches (pitched here as a kitschy retro trend). The general macguffin – a system that is able to predict and incarcerate criminals before they commit their crimes – is given more of a technological, far less X-Men, framing here (the ‘pre cogs’ of the original book being essentially psychic mutants; here, implants, software and algorithms do much of the heavy lifting). Naturally, arriving in a world where the Amazons and Apples rule the roost, Dick’s jaded, ageing commissioner protagonist gives way to a tech giant CEO, Dame Julia Anderton (Jodie McNee).

“The general macguffin – a system that is able to predict and incarcerate criminals before they commit their crimes – is given more of a technological, far less X-Men, framing here…”

First appearing on stage to celebrate her system’s 10th anniversary, McNee’s initially cool and corporate Julia appears in the vein of something akin to a power dressed Paula Vennells, brandishing a human brain and espousing the wonders of neuroscience in a manner of Tim Cook after one too many goes of his Apple Vision Pro. She soon comes a cropper though when, during this live anniversary broadcast, it turns out her infallible (if morally-questionable and just the tiniest bit dystopian) crook-spotting system is serving her name up on the chopping block as the next murderer-to-be.

Having been shown the suffocating, inescapable fate that awaits those flagged up as criminals in waiting, Anderton opts to flee in the hopes of figuring out what is going on, vindicate her name and unravel whom she is supposedly destined to place six feet under.

If Dick’s original novel was essentially a high-concept flourish of the self-fulfilling prophecy, and Spielberg’s leant more into abuse of power with a good old fashioned murder mystery thrown in for good measure, Haig opts for something of an ‘all of the above’. Anderton’s determination that she will not commit the murder she seems destined to threatens to undermine the very thing she has built her legacy – and the memory of her late sister – on. After all, if the ‘pre-crime’ ends up being incorrect, it’s a fatal flaw, and just as the US are flying in to throw big bucks behind it.

There’s certainly more of a journey of discovery and self-reflection here for its lead than Dick pulled off, whilst also being a leaner and more streamlined affair than Spielberg’s more ensemble cat-and-mouse. And, in infusing so much commentary and even gags about our collective dependency on gadgets (including a fantastic escalation of our ‘smart’ assistants a la Siri, Alexa etc.), recognition technology and ‘systems’, this Report is one that is laced with edges of sobering, haunting contemplation.

“…this Report is one that is laced with edges of sobering, haunting contemplation.”

To venture too far into the twists, turns and developments of what follows would dilute much of the impact here. Sure, some of the about-turns are a touch obvious, and those who’ve seen the 2002 film in particular will likely see a (slightly hokey) late-game revelation coming a mile off, but generally this is a pacy, engaging ninety minutes of theatrical thrills. With no interval, director Max Webster pitches the escalation of tension deftly, peppering in plenty of visceral and engaging set pieces whenever things threaten to get a bit too talky.

It all looks terrific, too. Jon Bausor’s impressive staging is a narrowing, expanding, crushing arena of forced perspective and technical wizardry, all bathed in oodles of projection, video and cyberpunk lighting. AI assistants seem to flicker into existence after the briefest moment of darkness. Self-driving taxis and law enforcement vehicles bounce about on stage. And the terrifying realisation of the ‘pre cogs’ themselves in situ is a thing of horrifying, almost Giger-esque elegiac beauty.

“Jodie McNee… charts Anderton’s journey from measured corporate overseer to despairing fugitive with conviction and heart, and gives a formidable and engaging turn”

Dashing, climbing and hurtling herself amidst it all is an impressive Jodie McNee, scarcely off stage. She charts Anderton’s journey from measured corporate overseer to despairing fugitive with conviction and heart, and gives a formidable and engaging turn. Haig and McNee do particularly good work in keeping the audience on the side of a character who could so easily be one-dimensional or unsympathetic. There’s a little less meat on the bones of the supporting cast, sadly, although Tanvi Virmani channels the uncanny valley quirkiness of AI and chatbot assistants with real aplomb, offering up a surprising amount of levity during an otherwise quite heavy tale.

There’s a lot to enjoy and take from this latest cautionary iteration of Minority Report. It’s a product of its time for sure, and is only a very loose adaptation in the broadest sense of the term. But in many ways this is precisely why it works. It fizzes with a visual style and sense of theatrical creativity throughout – the circular framing of the piece as something akin to a convention address or launch event is immersive and absorbing from the off, and Webster injects the show with plenty of movement, levels and rhythm.

But above all, it’s a fascinating spin on an interesting and original concept, transplanted for the 21st Century and channeled here through the filter of very real, contemporary concerns and sensibilities.

Just be sure to turn off those apple watches. It’s no joke to say that Siri may very well end up rather offended.

A vibrantly staged, keenly-adapted thriller that hums with cautionary echoes of technological overreach in this AI and digital age. McNee puts in a strong, grounding central turn and keeps things running (literally) in this visually arresting outing for Haig, Webster and company.

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