We live in a world of science and technology, marvels to hand which fifty years ago were undreamed of, near global access to a communications network which allows a flow of information from limitless databanks, insight into the deepest reaches of space and earliest time, knowledge of the atmosphere of distant planets, understanding of cellular processes and rewriting of the genetic code.
A genre in constant evolution, science fiction has become a dominant cultural force which permeates and shapes our lives even as it reflects them, offering inspiration, aspiration and warning, but despite the seemingly endless procession of material, books, graphic novels, cinema, television, audio plays and games, theatre remains perhaps the most difficult medium in which to present science fiction.
Written by Juan Echenique and directed by Fumi Gomez of Horatio Theatre, Red Button throws many ideas into the melting pot, but with the heat never turned up sufficiently high instead of melding together into a surprising new whole they bump up against each other harshly in a procession of clumsy scenes of pantomime overacting.
In a city in the sky, Greg and Beth (Benjamin Cawley and Mia Foo) have been married for two years; together since they were children they have none of their own to fill their lives, and upset with hearing of the plight of puppies and kittens they apply for a veterinarian posting with the Health Corporation but are instead selected to take charge of the Red Button.
After the Fiction Wars, all the remaining weapons in the world were gathered and linked together to be triggered by a single red button held in a black box which Greg and Beth have signed a contract to take care of. Having been more of a mind to have a puppy sleeping on her lap, Beth is at first shocked but soon the power of the button begins to change her as she twists its potential to her own desire.
Science fiction may take place in a unreal setting but it is still populated by real people whose lives are affected by the stresses of their situation, but in order to convince there must be a solid foundation of belief, and like the city in the clouds which they inhabit there is nothing supporting the Armageddon button existing in the first place let alone being handed to a random couple on the street without any precautions or safeguards; if this is supposed to be an allegory for American politics, there is no indication or context.
That fundamental premise flawed, nothing else matters; as a comedy Red Button is not funny, as an absurdist piece it is insufficiently outrageous or imaginative, nor can it be taken as a show for children with Echenique’s role as Papito, a part time au pair/part time prostitute, nor does it offer an astonishing sensory experience to make up for the narrative shortcomings, a bare set with lo-fi live soundtrack as the cast hit an array of plastic pipes, the limited charm of which rapidly wears off.
Foo and Cawley make the best of material which is beneath them and only Yasmine Holness-Dove impresses as the unflappable voice of calm reason in a role which serves the same function as the ubiquitous Sister Announcer of Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, but as an experiment without goal or purpose Red Button is a failure in this form and should have received significantly more development before it was ever presented to a paying audience.