Writer: Chris Boucher
Adapter: Alan Steven
Director: Kerry Ely
Reviewer: Brian Gorman
There appears to be a quiet revolution happening in the heart of Manchester. A drive to bring classic tv and film productions to life, and engage audiences in a manner that big budget 3D movies can never truly manage. Imagine your favourite tv shows and characters living and breathing before your very eyes. Well thanks to producer Gareth Kavanagh and his team at The Lass O’Gowrie pub, you can. A few months ago I saw their productions of Halo Jones (adapted from the acclaimed comic book series by Alan Moore), and Midnight (from a classic Dr Who story by Russell T Davies), and they blew me away. Now, in association with Manchester’s Fab Cafe, we have Robots Of Death adapted by Alan Stevens from the original 1977 Dr Who story by Chris Boucher. Considered a bona fide classic of the Tom Baker era, Robots mixes the archetypal murder mystery with hardcore sci-fi themes in a superbly satisfying blend.
On a distant alien world, Storm Mine Four (a large industrial mining vessel) makes its way through massive sandstorms with a motley crew assisted by servile humanoid robots. When mineralogist Chub (a nicely underplayed debut from Manchester comedian Chris Tavner) is murdered, the crew begin to suspect each other until two time travelling adventurers arrive and are immediately blamed for the death. As the characters of The Doctor and Leela (who appeared in the original tv story) are owned by the BBC, the two main protagonists in this production are the super cool Kaston Iago ( the sublimely brilliant Marlon Solomon) and his feisty kick ass assistant Elska Blayes ( steely-eyed Kate Millest). Our heroes soon guess that the murderer is a robot, and they must unmask whichever one of the crew is the notorious killer Taren Capel (who is controlling the killer robots from a secret workshop on the ship).
With a minimal set, it is the fast paced action, top notch acting, and fine direction by Kerry Ely that rivets the attention. In the dimly-lit confines of the Fab Cafe bar with its sci-fi decor, replica starship bridge and a vast array of tv monitors screening selected images from the original tv story, we have the perfect atmosphere. Add to this the unnerving presence of the robots moving with eerie calm among the audience, I felt fully immersed in the proceedings. Played with a slight tongue-in-cheek, Robots expertly mixed tension and thrills with belly laughs and good-natured camp. We gleefully relished every murder, and the ensemble cast played their parts to perfection. As the ship’s commander Uvanov, Jessica Hallows is a hard-assed no-nonsense leader, ably supported by the gobby, chav-like Borg (a snarling, scary-eyed Miranda Benjamin), the delicate and aristocratic Zilda (a charming Ellie Judge), and blonde bombshell Dask (sassy and dangerous Clara James). Gerard Thompson gives a full-bloodied and gritty performance as the nervy Poul, while Cliona Donohoe doubles up well as Cass and one of the dastardly robot killers. Daniel Thackeray dies a lovely death, struggling with a robot assassin while Iago and Blayes argue over whether they should interfere. And Jess Lee oozes charm as the vertically-challenged friendly robot D84. But it’s Leni Murphy who steals the show with a beautifully judged comic performance as the happy go lucky Toos. Faced with an ever increasing body count, and the threat of imminent violent death from the out of control sand miner or a selection of robot killers, she effortlessly deals with anything thrown at her in a manner that reminds one of a young Elsie Tanner or more sexy Hilda Ogden. In a radical change from the original tv story, we have a truly Shakespearean finale mixing comedy and tragedy reminiscent of the late Douglas Adams.
The story continues though with the sequel ‘Storm Mine’ at The Lass O’Gowrie pub from 28th July to 30th, featuring more murders and mayhem from the same talented company.