Kevin Michael Reed directs and produces Version 2.0, a new play by Kashyap Raja that explores issues of robotics and female consent. The world premiere production runs at London’s Leicester Square Theatre from 20 February to 3 March 2018. Here, Reed tells us more about how he discovered the piece and why the issues it raises are so pressing.
Kash, a playwright, is obsessively in love with his childhood friend Karen. Kash silently expresses his love for Karen by writing plays for her and she returns his admiration by acting in them.
Their enduring friendship falls apart when Karen rejects Kash, infuriating him to such an extent that he refuses to see her again. After the rejection, he isolates himself from everyone and gradually falls into a depression.
A robotic society offers Kash an opportunity to live with a humanoid companion, and in return that society wants him to introduce their robots to the world via the means of theatre. Kash accepts the invitation and creates a robot that looks exactly like Karen. He prepares a new show with the humanoid lookalike of Karen and presents her in front of a live audience.
Version 2.0 stars Tim Atkinson and Tracey Pickup. It’s directed by Kevin Michael Reed and designed by Martin Scott Marchitto, with original music by John Kerfoot and costumes by Jovana Gospavic. It’s presented by Squire Lane Theatrical and follows the company’s sell-out in December with new British prison drama, Shadows, also directed by Reed.
How did you discover Version 2.0? What did you think when you first read it?
Kashyap Raja, the playwright, first detailed the story of Version 2.0 to me about a year ago. I believe it was over pizza. For some reason, most of my meetings with playwrights are over some type of food, and usually some type of alcoholic beverage. We filled napkins with thoughts and discovered the initial seedling of what Version 2.0 was going to be.
He delivered his first draft to me about 20 days later. Over the course of the last year, Version 2.0 has taken many forms. Kashyap and I worked together to redefine the story to focus in on the themes that we believe are so important in our world. We held private readings with friends, industry folk and outsiders, and Kashyap went straight back to rewriting based on the feedback received and new things discovered. Over 30 drafts later, including several page 1 rewrites, Kashyap’s piece is ready for an audience.
Kashyap has a talent for creating beautiful, metaphorical and poetic language that is present throughout this piece, and layers of depth that give the creative team, actors and audience a lot to grab onto.
Why did you want to follow prison drama Shadows with this play? It seems very different!
While Version 2.0 is very different from Shadows, I think it’s also very much the same. As a producer and as a director, I believe that my work should be more than just entertainment. Yes, I want to entertain and visually stimulate an audience, but the pieces that I choose to work on speak issues in our society that boggle my mind. They are issues that I feel need to be talked about.
Very much like Shadows, Version 2.0 is about old ideas that need to be spoken about in a world that is changing constantly. On the surface, this is a story about a man, a monster, who creates a robot to replace the woman that he can’t have. That sounds scary, doesn’t it? A submissive robot to grant you all your wishes?
Beneath the surface, It is a story about masculinity and the gender control structures that have been ingrained in us from childhood. It is about the worlds that we present on social media, false worlds, that affect how we act as human beings, and how that is dangerous. At the same time, it reflects on how the theatre presents a place to address these issues. Kashyap Raja has done something really spectacular with this piece, he has created a monster to place a magnifying glass on these issues. He makes you feel uncomfortable, scared and hopefully, after seeing the show, you will talk about it.
With the recent scandals in Hollywood, in London at the Old Vic, and with a misogynist president in the United States, who was elected by the people, I think Version 2.0 presents today’s issues of female consent and misuse of technology in an artistic and entertaining way.
What’s the biggest challenge for you in rehearsals?
Version 2.0 has many layers. It jumps through time and place with fluidity. I think the biggest challenge is finding the best way to keep an audience both entertained and to give them hints to where we are in both time and place. We’ve brought in composer John Kerfoot to score the piece, and are making use of some creative set (designed by my mentor Martin Scott Marchito), lighting (Matthew Carnazza), projection and costuming (Jovana Gospavic) elements to tell the story. The creative team listens to all my “big crazy ideas”, and then a couple of days later, comes back with solutions and plans to make them happen. Making that all fit together has been a challenge, we’ll see if I was successful when we open.
The actors (Tracey Pickup and Tim Atkinson) that we’ve brought together have been amazing. Tracey plays several roles in the piece making it a challenge to develop each of these characters individually. Tim’s experience as a trained Shakespearean actor has allowed him to adjust to the poetic nature of Kashyap’s writing with ease. He brings distinct vocal dynamics and a deep analysis of the text which makes him a pleasure to have in any rehearsal space. They are both very smart and talented actors, which makes my job easy from that perspective.
The play shows one of the darker sides of social media and the prospect of robots becoming more commonplace in society. Have you had any scare stories yourself?
It does. I think it also shows a darker side to human relationships, and a scary side to more human-like AI that is programmed to “serve” and how that can be misused.
I haven’t, personally, had many scare stories. In my previous career as a fashion photographer, I heard stories every day from models that I worked with about the stalkers that seem to know them so well from their social media posts and have tracked them down. Everyone on social media is selling themselves, a lifestyle, and many times that lifestyle is a fallacy. In the wrong hands, I find that to be very dangerous.
I think social media combined with generations of gender conformity have warped our sensibility when it comes to the questions “What is love?” and “What is consent?”. The metaphorical world in the play represents a superficial nature of society and gender-based control structures that exist because of historical and present-day pressures. I think Kashyap forces us to ask questions about the perfect worlds that we present on social media, worlds that don’t actually exist, but present a truth that can be misconstrued.
Version 2.0 runs at London’s Leicester Square Theatre from 20 February to 3 March 2018, with performances (90 minutes) Tuesdays to Saturdays at 8pm, Saturday matinees at 3.30pm. Tickets are priced £17 (concessions £15).