A letter comes through your door offering you an absolutely free, all expenses paid mystery tour. It’s a new start up company hoping to drum up some interest. It all looks legitimate. You would go, right? But imagine your disappointment when all is not quite what it seems… Devised by Hull Truck Theatre’s over 55’s theatre group Act III, Are We There Yet? is a remarkably observant new production that highlights the dangers of losing touch with humanity as we continue to focus on developing new and more ambitious technologies.
In its first act, Are We There Yet? delivers a mystery tour both for its characters and for its audience. From the opening of the play we are charmed by Max (Brian Hossack), an ambitious and enigmatic entrepreneur at the head of the Universal Cybernetics Corporation and, surprisingly, also our mystery tour guide. Played with just the right amount of sleaze, Hossack drives the delicate balance of mystery and intrigue that holds the first half; it’s never clear exactly what he is up to. The use of projected image and video takes us on physical journeys between scenes and works to add further mystery to a piece that makes us question everything that we are watching unfold.
The confusion mostly clears up in the second half however, providing a slight twist to proceedings. In this shift of focus, the oddly mannered but undeniably charming Becky (Dot Barker) takes centre stage as the other characters discover that she is in fact a robot of Max’s design. The piece provides an interesting contrast to similar cautionary tales because it depicts a community of people who see the best in the situation and, rather than villainising Becky, they work to humanise her. It’s easy to draw parallels with Westworld and other works of science fiction as the ethical dangers of robotic slavery are made abundantly clear.
Despite the dark undertones of the themes it grapples with, Are We There Yet maintains a gentle humour throughout that ensures things never become too unpleasant. Credit here goes to the cast of 14 who carry this humourous spirit through their performances. A worthy mention here is Hugh Newsam who injects the sarcastic and often grouchy Hilary with genuine warmth and heart. It is a real shame then when the production pushes the humour too far during a poorly pitched Scooby Doo-esque villain chase that feels out of place in a production that otherwise successfully allows us buy into the truth of what we are seeing on stage.
Are We There Yet? makes you want to celebrate what is wonderful about being alive whilst simultaneously making you question what being human even really means. Supported by a beautiful set and choice soundtrack, the production celebrates life, it celebrates memories and it warns of the dangers of human beings trying to manufacture these precious gifts. And by closing the show with the reappearance of Max, his body bruised but his will intact, Act III make you wonder if we might have already gone too far…