Version 2.0 by Kashyap Raja
Leicester Square Theatre (Short walk from Leicester Square tube station) until March 3rd, 2018
90 Minutes without an interval
Veronica Stein, February 23rd, 2018.
Quietly stated obsession
Kash-perhaps the same Kash who wrote Version 2.0- is a playwright. He’s been rhyming since he was only young, aided by Karen, his best friend, co-creator, and muse. He’s embarking on a new project, testing if a humanoid robot can become an authentic actor. Kash’s robot is not all-knowing as she is a child, learning more and more about the world around her. When she is hooked up to the wifi though, she is as close to all knowing as one could get. She soon finds out that she’s been programmed to look exactly like Karen- and Karen and Kash are not on the best of terms…she may have rejected him one too many times.
Version 2.0 is largely a story about obsessive love. In seeing how Kash interacts with his humanoid version of Karen, we see how in many ways it’s no different than how he objectifies Karen herself. What this piece excels in is its commentary in the wake of Weinstein and the various assault cases recently brought to light. Despite the sometimes heavy-handed nature of the more sexual scenes, the moralizing is left to the audience instead of being shouted at them. In firmly naming the main character in his namesake, Raja maintains a strong sense of self-awareness throughout the murky narrative, there are no heroes or villains but there are ethically grey moments even without the introduction of the idea of sex with a robot. And as the best science fiction often does, Version 2.0 comments less on our interaction with technology and more on our interaction with each other.
Atkinson’s portrayal of Kash – both predatory and very wounded- is troubling in its efficacy. Sympathy for him ebbs and flows, but he is captivating throughout (with brilliant voicework, one might add). Pickup is stellar as Kash’s humanoid. Her childlike innocence keeps her from being completely robotic; we don’t disconnect with her and recognize her as at least close to human. When she plays Karen herself, or at least how Kash has written her, Pickup’s ease and intimate nature provide a wonderful contrast from the robot version of Karen. The pair’s chemistry is undeniable, and watching them work the crowd is one of the main pleasures of Version 2.0. Raja’s writing may flounder in the use of an important but sometimes clumsy framing device, but generally is absorbing and provocative. We may laugh at the jokes cracked at our social media use’s expense, but also recoil in horror.
Issues of consent, ownership, and entitlement are rife in our current political climate. Kashyap Raja brilliantly brings artificial intelligence to the same discussion. With some men purchasing virtual girlfriends in Japan this reality might be more relevant than we would believe. Version 2.0 takes a good look at what advanced technology can do to our future relationships- more impressive is the astute observation of what’s wrong with them now.
Kash: Tim Atkinson
Karen: Tracey Pickup
Director: Kevin Michael Reed
Choreographer: Andy Samel
Designer: Martin Scott Marchitto
Lighting Designer: Mathew Carnazza
Costumes: Jovana Gospavic