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Review: Almost Human/Precious Jewel @ Lichfield Garrick

The cast of Precious Jewel

The cast of Precious Jewel

Local playwright Philip Preece unveiled his latest work at Lichfield Garrick last night, a fast-moving double bill – Almost Human and Precious Jewel – the first set in the present, and the second, in the distant past. Both deal with themes of power and free will, but Preece’s witty dialogue, coupled with some fine direction from Paolo Allen, keeps the audience engaged and the action moving.

Almost Human is an entertaining two-hander that takes place in the cluttered back bedroom of computer war-games fanatic Rob Smallman (Jim Kelly). On what seems like another ordinary day in front of the laptop, Smallman is horrified to discover that, during a phase of playing the game Days of Dynasty, he’s unwittingly created Ariel (Natasha James): a computerised dictator who has leapt the gap into his world. It’s not long before Ariel reveals her plan to destroy the universe, but before she does so, Smallman has a few tricks up his own sleeve to distract the ‘Supreme Commander’ and turn the situation to his own advantage.

Kelly is excellent as the bemused Brummie, living quietly with his nan, but James warrants a special mention as Ariel, who gives a hugely enjoyable performance – keeping the jokes rolling at high speed and delivering her lines with just the sort of patronising glee you’d expect from a crazed, digital dominatrix.

The second half jumps into completely different territory: namely England of 1585, when – following a decree from the Pope that the assassination of the Protestant monarch would be no crime – Queen Elizabeth lives in constant fear of her life. Forced to take refuge in a country house during a violent storm, Elizabeth (Della Allen) is catapulted into a domestic drama which tests her judgement and her capacity for mercy. Allen is suitably imperious as the Virgin Queen and the period is vividly evoked through the language, costumes and props. Look out for Matthew Huntbach, whose performance as Lord Tyrell is about as unnerving as it gets.

Almost Human and Precious Jewel join a growing roster of successful performances from Nobody’s Perfect Productions (including My Diet From Hell, House of Pain and That’s Entertainment) and this is your chance to catch them in Lichfield before they embark on a six-date tour that concludes at London’s Jermyn Street Theatre in December.

Oct 8 and 9, Studio, Lichfield Garrick, 7.30pm, £12. Tel: 01543 412121.

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