Review: Spillikin at Cambridge Arts Theatre

PUBLISHED: 07:46 16 February 2017 | UPDATED: 07:46 16 February 2017

Judy Norman as Sally with the robot in Spillikin

Judy Norman as Sally with the robot in Spillikin

Archant

In an intriguing combination of science and art, a robot took to the stage at Cambridge Junction.

Spillikin is a play about a man so devoted to his wife that he made a talking replacement for himself for when he died.

The humanity of the play, presented by the touring company Pipeline Theatre, is the love between a couple, Raymond and Sally. He is a boffin who invents robots, she is a rock chick who wants to be an actress. It’s 1978. We hear a lot of Blondie.

It’s Raymond who is in danger of eventually inheriting a disabling disease and becoming a “spillikin” the person who spills his drinks. But in the event, it’s Sally who develops Alzheimer’s. And that’s why before Raymond dies – when they are both in their 60s, Raymond makes a robot and fills it with their memories so that Sally will have a companion to look after her.

Hannah Stephens and Mike Tonkin Jones who play the young Sally and Raymond are charming.

As teenagers, they meet every week when she goes for a singing lesson at his mother’s house and he is sitting there, peering through his glasses working on his latest robot. She is the one who asks him out because she says he never would. She knows he is too unworldly and too shy.

They are opposites who attract. He is the thinker, she is the one with spirit. It’s her idea to have their wedding reception in a Wimpy Bar.

Older Sally, gradually deteriorating and remembering less, is played with humour by Judy Norman. She hasn’t forgotten how to swear.

Alun Munden, who plays Tim the engineer who comes to service the Robot is the most natural actor on the stage as he tinkers with the controls and never lets on that Raymond, who the ailing Sally thinks must be away on a conference has actually died.

This is a very gentle play about Alzheimer’s but also about love and loss.

It’s delicately written by Jon Welch and has a bright set from designers Alan and Jude Munden – a cheerful sitting room with interesting light projections. It’s a light-hearted look at life.

The robot has been made by Will Jackson of Engineered Arts in Cornwall who provided the Gemma Chan robot for Channel 4’s documentary Making a Human.

The show is touring until April and offers the audience a talk at the end. It’s not often you get a chance to interview a robot

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