Review: Fables for Robots

Rowan Gow 31 October 2019

When writing a review, I think a mistake sometimes made is to go in with your own expectations, and judge a show based on what you think theatre should be.

Fables for Robots is a show which, more than any other I’ve seen, really depends on what you are looking for; it’s the sort of Marmite affair which some will love, and some will find unpalatable because it clashes with their general preferences. Those hoping for polished, heart-wrenching drama or serious sci-fi will not like Fables for Robots. To my mind, the key question then is this: what did Fables for Robots set out to do, and did it accomplish those goals?

Image credit: Fables for Robots

To me, the clear answer is that the aims of the show are to experiment and above all to entertain, and these are accomplished with flying colours. The show is a quirky, playful anthology of short stories, inspired by the writings of Polish author Stanislaw Lem, though no background knowledge is required. Adapted by Benedict Mulcare, (also performing), this collection of short stories is brought to life by a highly energetic cast, weaving through tales as varied as an electronic bard (a standout section for me) to a lecture on the existence of dragons, oscillating between sharp satire and absurdity.

The cast are a group with delightfully contrasting styles, from Mulcare’s deliveries infused with verve and flair, to Florence Sharkey’s excellently understated comic style, to Joe Ross-Biddles’ knack for audience interaction and quick thinking.

The cast rotates in playing the two protagonist inventors, Trurl and Klapaucius, taking full advantage of this range. It’s a testament to the cast’s enthusiasm and sense of playfulness that they were able to get the audience relaxed and in good enough spirits to cheerily clap along to a song. With a backdrop of very minimal set, basic cardboard props and a small venue, this is all the more indicative of the show’s capacity to be infectiously fun.

Image credit: Fables for Robots

There are aspects that could have been improved, of course. Given the prominence of physical theatre, slick, energetic choreography is a must, and the cast at points seemed out of step with each other during these sequences or somewhat low on energy as the show progressed. At times I found the lengthy sections of nonsensical exposition to drag, as the show risked  appealing to randomness for humor, but at these moments Mulcare’s sharp writing would dependably pull us back with killer one-liners or even a sense of wonder.

Image credit: Fables for Robots

The ultimate strength of Fables for Robots is that it harnesses these performers and writing in creating a space of vibrancy and innovation, offering a performance that is genuinely refreshing. While some tweaks here and there to ensure tight execution are needed, the pervasive sense of fun across the performance makes this a pleasure to watch. If you go in with an open mind, you will be entertained.

4 stars.

What do you think? Let us know at editor@tcs.cam.ac.uk with the subject line ‘Letter to the Editor’!