Life meets death meets virtual life in Hereafter, a new play by Chloë Taylor exploring the inhumane and even inhuman treatment of bereavement in the world of work. Eva (Martha Harlan) is grieving her dead husband when she is called in to work and asked by her boss with a sickening faux empathy to be a guinea pig for a new virtual reality programme, which she claims will cure her of her depression within a matter of days. What ensues is a simultaneously eerie and touching look at the way we try to cure grief, in a production that plays up its futuristic outlook but ultimately returns to age-old problems of the heart.
For a play exploring human relationships and technology’s place within them, it is apt for it to have used well-executed special effects and staging to explore the connections and disconnections between characters. As Eva’s mother’s voice repeats over and over on voicemail, we are reminded both of the disconnect within human interactions that grief causes, and the need for repetition as a coping mechanism. The use of a home video of Eva and her husband during the scene transitions provides a wonderful soft touch of humanity and nostalgia, contrasting with the harsh white staging and the impersonal figures surrounding Eva in a way that effectively creates a contrast between her life before and after grief.
it is apt for it to have used well-executed special effects and staging to explore the connections and disconnections between characters.
It was evident that this was a piece of new writing, for there were a few parts that could have been fleshed out a tad more. The writing for the manipulative behaviour of Eva’s boss could have done with a bit more subtlety, with the obvious irony of her claiming that “we abandon the human” when we grieve being one example of excessive ostentation. It felt as if it were straddling two angles; one being a dystopian look at the capacity of technology to rob us of humanity, and the other being a more straightforward tale of recovery from the death of a loved one, and at times it seemed as though the play didn’t know which one to balance in favour of, leaving its climax somewhat underwhelming.
Yet this should not in any way deter anyone from seeing this. Ultimately, while it did make some thought-provoking and timely suggestions about the sinister potential of our online footprints, what sold it to me was its persistent human touch. Eva’s relationship with her brother provided gentle comic relief throughout, and what struck me most was the development of Eva’s coping mechanisms in coming to terms with her tragedy. Harlan’s delivery of a monologue in which she questions what belongs to whom of our lives and memories is delivered with a serene vulnerability, as the audience is provoked to consider where our existence truly lies. It is appropriate that the play’s biggest strength is found in its humanity.
It is appropriate that the play’s biggest strength is found in its humanity.
Well-executed, thoroughly thought out and sharply acted, Hereafter is worth the trek to the Land’s End that is the North Wall. While it may need to probe some of its themes a bit further, it handles a very difficult topic sensitively, and proves there is nothing virtual about the reality it transcribes.