After winning the Bruntwood Prize for Screenwriting back in 2017, and with its release being continuously pushed back up until now, Tim Foley’s Electric Rosary finally found its way toward a world premiere in Manchester’s Royal Exchange Theatre.
Bringing robots and nuns together on one stage, it is an original and high-concept science fiction comedy, following the Sisters of St Grace convent shortly after the death of their Mother Superior. Dwindling in numbers and with many unresolved internal issues, including financial struggles and a fight for the late Mother’s successor, the four Sisters are in trouble.
Searching for inspiration to throw some life and vigour into the sanctuary life, an unlikely help appears in the form of Mary, a council-funded robot nun. As soon as she arrives into the convent, she stirs confusion among the nuns. What place does technology have in such a conservative and tradition-bounded environment as a Christian convent?
Rather than undertaking this question in a serious manner, Electric Rosary resorts to a comedic approach. Mary, played in a hypnotising nature by Breffni Holahan, causes bursts of laughters in the audience the moment she appears on the stage. Due to her robot-like mannerisms, combined with hilarious reactions of the other Sisters, the first half of the play was filled with laughter.
This setting the scene for a potentially heavy philosophical subject matter is brilliant in its concept, with Electric Rosary aiming to make a debate about faith and humanity accessible and enjoyable to everyone.
The debate, however, does not feel present in the play. The exploration of “what it means to be human in tomorrow’s world”, promised by one of the show’s headlines, is nowhere to be found. Setting the play in an environment that contrasts with technological advancements and that gives ground to a multitude of jokes could be the backbone of exploration of serious subjects, but it is the furthest the show goes.
The second half of the play, which lets go of much of the humour to try and focus on dramatic tensions, does not match what was promised before. Towards the end, Electric Rosary turns pretentious but not deep, losing some of its uniqueness and originality.
The plot and the relationships between characters hold up greatly when they are a subject of jokes, yet as soon as a drastic tonal shift arrives, they don’t bear any power. This shift in tone does not feel natural, splitting the play into two parts, the first one comedic, the second dramatic, in a way that makes them unbalanced and separated from each other.
Electric Rosary promises more than it actually delivers, but it does not make it a bad show by any means. It is a highly entertaining watch and knows how to make science fiction fun. With inspirations taken from great classics of the science fiction genre, it provides a creative twist on its predecessors through heavy reliance on comedy. However, there is not much philosophical depth to go with it, therefore your expectations should be adjusted.
Electric Rosary runs at the Royal Exchange Theatre until 14th May.
For more Electric Rosary content, check out our interview with playwright Tim Foley.
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