Review: Electric Rosary at The Royal Exchange Theater – Jenna Campbell

What does it mean to be human in the world of tomorrow? That’s just one of many philosophical questions posed in the highly topical and rousing Electric Rosary, playing at The Royal Exchange Theater until May 14.

Winner of the 2017 Bruntwood Prize Judge’s Award, Tim Foley’s play brings nuns and robots together for the very first time at Manchester’s premier theatre, and can best be described as a technological nightmare meets comedy. Inspired by Foley’s youthful journey to a monastery with his father, where monks rode quad bikes, the piece asks us to question everything we know about faith and humanity, while also exploring the reality of a robotic future. see eyes.

We begin behind the crumbling walls of St. Grace’s Convent, where cracks are visible not only in the building itself, but also in the community of nuns holding it together. We soon learn that the convent’s mother has recently passed away, forcing the five remaining sisters to find some semblance of order, despite the outside world becoming increasingly polarized and fearful of the effects of artificial intelligence.

A simmering leadership contest between former treasurer turned acting mother Elizabeth played by Jo Mousley – a well-meaning but wicked leader – and Constance played by Olwen May – a long-suffering sister who holds fervently to tradition – ensues, but is suddenly disrupted by the arrival of a unusual postulant.

Behold Mary – a city-funded robot, a solution to dwindling funds and disorder. She is a blessing to Elizabeth and novice nun Thereasa, played by Saroja-Lily Ratnavel, but to Constance and Philippa – the latter played by Suzette Llwellyn – she is the greatest threat to their way of life.

Practical and surprisingly witty, Mary the robot, skillfully played by Breffni Holahan, begins to trick herself, doing menial tasks more efficiently than Philippa — a joke hybrid created by Mary is particularly entertaining — and balancing the books for Mother Elizabeth. She spoke only in facts and brief statements at first, much to the amusement of Theresa – an immature but healthy newcomer – and to the chagrin of Constance and Philippa, her presence in the monastery continues to be divisive, yet makes for a brilliant view, and all quickly she becomes part of their rich, complex tapestry.

Bringing nuns and robots together for the first time on the Royal Exchange stage
Bringing nuns and robots together for the first time on the Royal Exchange stage

As the play progresses, all the nuns begin to fixate on a pilgrimage to a sister monastery in Ecuador, a journey Elizabeth fears they won’t be able to afford until Mary makes it possible — but only if they travel over Easter. Incredulous at the thought, Constance shuns her responsibilities and the other nuns until a leadership vote is forced.

Overwhelmed by the drama and contention, Mary doesn’t seem to be working well and we leave act 1 with even more questions about her purpose in the monastery and her powers. Is she just a robot programmed to help with mop tasks and flight details, or is she a conduit for a higher being?

A game of two halves, the second act takes longer to get going, but most likely because the play’s themes are all starting to hook up. Mary seems refreshed and is tasked by Elizabeth to find out who voted against her.

Breffni Holahan at Mary – the council funded robot

Constance is a natural candidate, but not all is as it seems and the trip to Ecuador is increasingly on the line. Meanwhile, Mary, who has been taught to pray through Thereasa, continues to tap into something far bigger and more sacred than the nuns thought possible, as they themselves struggle against their own internal demons and collective disorder.

In the final scenes, the outside world – where robots have become commonplace – begins to transition into the monastery and they are finally tasked with confronting their own beliefs and what they believe to be true, both about themselves and about the people who came before them. † As an army of Luddites approaches, each of the nuns reveals their true nature, as Mary’s role and calling is revealed.

Directed by Jaz Woodcock-Stewart, this play explores what we choose to believe and what it means to be human. Tenderly and compassionately written, we witness a world of nuns, robots, Luddites and hymns colliding – and we too are forced to face our own decisions and actions in a world where technology is now an essential part of human life. experience, for better or for worse.

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