Version 2.0 is an unsatisfying and muddled 90 minutes at the Leicester Square Theatre, which doesn’t do justice to its complex themes of consent and the robotic age.
Kashyap Raja’s Version 2.0 promised to explore issues of consent, robotics and the superficiality of our online lives. In the current climate, following the blaze of the Weinstein scandal and being performed soon after the first robot has been given citizenship, the show should have at least been a conversation starter. But if you’re looking for an intelligent, nuanced discussion of consent and how technology is changing what it means to be human, please move along. This isn’t the show for you.
The play follows Kash, a writer who falls in love with his childhood friend Karen. He writes shows for her to perform in. ‘Even when it’s about him, it’s about her’ he says, assuring us of his dire case of the lovesick blues. Much to the despair of the overwrought narcissistic Kash, Karen doesn’t feel the same way and he falls down the rabbit hole of obsession eventually building a humanoid robot to perform in a play about their lives. While the play certainly poses some interesting questions about the future of relationships in a robotic age, the show is completely incapable of exploring them as it battles through a tangential hodge-podge of plot points, tones and themes. The script uses up a huge amount of it’s 90 minutes with needless exposition and quazi-philosophizing on life as a writer without giving the due time of fully exploring it’s characters motivations or trying to unravel the complex debates of its subject matter.
In fairness, consent is a huge topic to handle. It’s politically charged and incredibly sensitive, but that is exactly what makes it such an important topic for artists to create work about. Version 2.0 completely wastes the opportunity to add anything new to the debate. Kash does assault his friend Karen when she rejects him but we never learn much about Karen (being played by her robot counterpart) or about how she feels about her friend’s aggressive obsession. We learned far more about Kash’s miserable manic-pixie-dream girl fantasies than we ever did about how it feels to have your consent breached by someone you love. It seems bizarre to pitch yourself as a play about ‘female consent’ when the script refuses to properly engage with the topic.
Karen and her humanoid dopple-ganger are both unfixed to any kind of consistent traits or motivations. At the start, robot Karen is buzzing with agency. She can lock Kash out of her system, she challenges his version of the story and even makes him take a lie detector test. Later she becomes completely placid, she repeatedly tells Kash she can be or do whatever he wants her to be (even in a seduction scene when she is clearly ‘scared’ of his advances). Moments like this, if allowed to properly breathe, could make for brilliant drama. Raja could have explored why these characters were changing, what social pressures and constraints lead them to make the decision they do and be onto an incredibly interesting study of the murky world of consent. In this script though, the floppiness seems like an oversight. Their characters are made to fit whatever the immediate scene requires without developing.
The two actors Tim Atkinson and Tracey Pickup both had shining moments, and worked well with the earlier comic scenes in the play – and there was a fantastic depiction of Kash’s fall into depression accompanied by an unsettling, stuttering projection showing how he sees the world. But this was not enough to hold up the offering. My main gripe with Version 2.0 is that it just doesn’t do what it says on the tin. The theme of consent itself is so thinly scrutinised that it seems like its main purpose was as a marketing tool to give a rambling show gravitas.