By Regina Wang
An hour and a half visionary science fiction play premiered in the 1920s by Karel Čapek that makes you question our society.
Even though I don’t have a decent amount of experience watching student plays, I feel like there’s always the stereotype that most university plays have inevitable flaws and it’s insanely common for student productions to be unforgivably cringeworthy. They all have incredibly bad acting, awkward scene transitions, and the storyline is either horrifically boring or tries way too hard to be “edgy”.
I expected this new theatrical play to be the exact same but NUTS’s production of Karel Čapek's R.U.R completely blew my expectations out of the park. Through a unique, subtle take on set design, an immersive soundscape, devoted cast members, and a script adapted for modern language, R.U.R makes an unforgettable theatrical experience beyond imagination.
R.U.R stands for Rossum’s Universal Robots, a science fiction play that premiered in the 1920s with the aim to question society. Produced by NUTS, R.U.R is about humanity's downfall as a result of their own hubris. The play tries to unravel humanity's struggles with both the environment and capitalism by drawing on communist and anti-establishment themes, all revolving around A.I.
The NUTS production of R.U.R seems like a not-too-distant dystopian future with futuristic scenes and themes revolving around A.I., the limits of humanoid robots and the idea that humans are becoming superfluous. Fans of films and TV like Blade Runner and Westworld will find many similar themes.
"Young people are going to enjoy it as well because it’s that classic clash of ideology, morals vs business. Is it right to make something, give them [robots] the brain, give them a role in the world, then declare them lesser than us [humans]?” Joshua Hammond, one of the play’s lead actors said.
I enjoyed this theatrical play because NUTS shows this future world by making the barren stage a space of fantasy, fascination and curiosity. The fluro stripes on robot costumes accompanied with orange accents and blue contouring around the face of actors are really cool. The lead designer choose to use vibrant face paint to make the robots pop out against the gloomy staging area. The simplistic-style set design with neon lighting blends retro and sci-fi vibes to envision our futuristic world whilst reminding us to not confine ourselves to realism.
I’ve noticed that a great amount of attention to detail has been given to the robots as a chorus, particularly the precision in their robotic movements. The cast members do a fantastic job in their roles. If you’ve never seen a student play before, be prepared to view the best chemistry happening on stage.
R.U.R was the first dystopian text to use the word “Robot”. When capitalism was becoming a growing dominant force in global trade, Čapek was predicting what would come with A.I in the future. Similar to George Orwell’s 1984 and Fritz Lang’s Metropolis, this play reminds me of the idea that there’s no good and evil, there’s only power, and those too weak to seek it.
“The play leaves questions in the end like: does this ideology survive? And questions of morals. There’s no good or bad, there’s no right or wrong, there’s perspectives, opinions, and circumstances.” Joshua
The play’s original script was re-written and adapted in a way that’s more transferable to the modern times we’re living in and it encompasses more of our modern-day values. “Our script adapter did a fantastic job of bringing the language to life because it was very old-fashion. It takes a lot of care and works to bring them [the stage characters] to a place where I’m hoping people can see reflections of these actual characters in society.” said Joshua.
“It’s quite a difficult script because there is a lot of nuance and double-meaning but you have to act in a way that is obvious enough for the audience to understand but also has a level of subtext. As an actor, you have to really delve into that and see how can it be looked at from many different directions.” - Nye Morrison, who plays the head of the robot revolution.
The cast members were super excited during stage rehearsals and had much to say about the return of uni-theatre post-Covid. “I’m really happy about it. I love [doing] theatre. Especially at university, where there are so many great creators walking around, it’s a really great place for that collaboration of minds and people who wouldn’t usually be auditioning, they get this new opportunity to come and learn about theatre, get on stage in a safe space to just create, and perform.” Said Joshua.
2020 wasn’t an easy ride for many UNSW students. Luckily, the return of university theatre in the post-Covid world offers amazing opportunities for the performing arts to continue and it’s super enriching for university culture.
“Being a first-year student I haven’t done any university theatre yet but I used to do some theatre in the past. I’m really glad that I could come in my first year and do a production and I think it’s so important for the arts to keep going post-Covid.” - Nye
“Thank god! It’s so annoying not to be able to do theatre or live theatre during covid. I’m so glad to be back practicing with real people and it’s so fun to collaborate with other artists. Working with such amazing people is really the best about post-covid.” Said Cinnamon Howearth, the female lead in R.U.R. “We got so cut off from people and now it’s like YES PEOPLE!"