moving duo

Roseanna Frascona as Ana and Jodie McNee as Julia. Pictures: Marc Brenner.

Minority Report

Birmingham Rep


Theatre can be both a magical and a frightening place, the magic being a breathtaking production of acting talent and technical wizardry making time fly . . . the frightening being the dystopian, bleak future we could be sleepwalking into.

The play is David Haig’s adaptation of Philip K Dick’s novella and as I have read neither book nor seen the Steven Spielberg 2002 film, loosely based upon it, then this production had to stand on its own two feet - and stand it did, tall and towering.

The premise is simple. We are in 2050 London, famed neuroscientist Dame Julia Anderton is in the midst of launching the next phase of her pre-crime program. It’s a simple concept, we all have a chip inserted in our heads which monitors our brains and picks up murderers and the like even before they know they are a threat to society and the authorities scoop them up and incarcerate them for life before that can do any harm.

An actual crime, and boring stuff like charges and a trial are dispensed with in favour of a crime and possibly criminal free society but Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? As the ancient Romans had it - Who will watch the watchmen?

Well, it seems the Pre-Crime bank of computers will, as Dame Julia becomes damned Julia as her name is spewed out as a murderer in waiting, which sets in chain a chase for survival and opens up a catering size can of worms about choice, morality and freedom.

Jodi McNee is superb as the troubled scientist, clinging to her belief in the system against all criticism or questions until her own, beloved, failsafe, totally secure creation, betrays her.

Her collaborator is her husband George, a computer programmer, a breed who see life in binary terms, played with a sort of not quite in tune with real world reality by Nick Fletcher.


Nick Fletcher as George with Jodie McNee as Julia

We are to discover the horrors of his work to produce a computer that can understand human emotions and feelings without bias and able to predict criminal intent, decisions monitored and sanctioned, or rejected, by his three precogs, the humans in the secret computer centre where the entire population’s thoughts are analysed every second of every day.

Julia and George provide a tortured love story, moulded by a murder long ago, we are to discover.

Then there is Ralph, the smooth talking, duplicitous, Government man, who sees truth as merely the version of events needed at that moment. A pillar, albeit on shaky foundations, of society.

They are the establishment, the power, the status quo, or were in our fugitive Julia’s case. But as in even the most totalitarian regime, there is resistance, with its leading light in this case being Fleming, played by Danny Collins, who seems to spend his time protesting and then being beaten up by the local thought police.

But he does rescue Julia in her hour of need and takes her to a safe house where we meet Ana, played with touching emotion by Roseanna Frascona.

When Ana tells her story of her sex trafficked arrival in London and her lost daughter back home in Sicily, and Julia opens up about the murder that has haunted her all these years we are faced not with technology or pre-crime or Government decree, but with humanity, with feelings, hopes and fears that no computer chip can ever understand. A sci-fi thriller stands back and holds fire for a powerful and deeply moving scene.

Hovering around is Julia’s virtual assistant David, played by Tanvi Virmani, who doesn’t exist any more than Alexa – which is what Julia threatens to reduce her to if she stops helping.

Thus, we have two threads running through David Haig’s clever play. First, we have Julia attempting to prove her innocence . . . which, if she succeeds, would call into question the much lauded claim of infallibility of Pre-Crime, a fatal blow you suspect; then there is that murder, long ago, which turned Pre-Crime into an obsession for Julia which in turn drove George’s grotesque decisions in computing desperate to please the woman he loved.

Does Julia succeed, is the murder solved? Find out for yourself – it is well worth seeing.

It might be sci-fi but we already have AI distorting reality and truth. It promises huge benefits in rapid data analysis, medical research, design and technology, but against that it can flood social media with lies, fake news and fake videos. It is also being used for facial recognition to trace criminals and we are already being monitored as we go about our lives. Suddenly Minority Report no longer seems so far-fetched.

It also encourages us to question the safety of our own basic human rights with some politicians already advocating leaving the ECHR and joining pariah states Russia and Belarus as European outliers and our basic concepts of freedoms are now being challenged by Government . . . but that is an argument for another day.

The set is a bleak, grey affair, with harsh futuristic lighting – except for Ana’s humble home – with the use of video, and brilliantly choreographed movement to give us chases and busy street scenes. Here are sliding screens, rooms descending from the flies, and that grotesque all seeing computer.

It is a wonderful, inventive and always interesting staging from the team of Production Designer: Jon Bausor, Video Designer: Tal Rosner, Lighting Designer: Jessica Hung Han Yun, Composer and  Sound Designer: Nicola T. Chang, Movement Director: Lucy Hind and Illusions Designer: Richard Pinner. Hats off to them all.

The production, directed by Max Webster, who directed Life of Pi, runs for 90 minutes without break, not that you will notice. Time just flies by in a fast paced, inventive night of theatrical magic. To 06-04-24

Roger Clarke


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