Minority Report

Loosely based on Philip K Dick’s novella with nods to the 2002 Steven Spielberg’s film adaptation , David Haig’s Minority Report delves into the world of “pre-crime” with a peculiarly British bent.

It’s the year 2050 and Dame Julia Anderton (Jodie McNee) is celebrating her creation of an AI-enabled way of predicting all forms of crime across the UK. By making it mandatory to have a neuropin inserted into their heads, the populace are now permanently attached to a network which tracks their location and informs the Pre-Crime division when it looks like someone is about to break the law. Since this new technology was voted in by a national referendum in 2040, society has been transformed: MetPol are alerted as soon as someone starts thinking about any form of villainy, the crime rate has dropped by ninety per cent and people now leave their doors unlocked. In the background, the US and the Home Secretary are supporting this social experiment for their own reasons.

After a disruption from “free will” protestor called Fleming, Anderton shows off her invention to the audience as the three neuroscientists known as “pre-cogs” pick up a new case. To her horror, she sees that the system has fingered Anderton herself, predicting she will murder someone. On the run with the aid of her AI sidekick David, she is forced to confront the secrets behind the very thing she set up.

Max Webster is one of the most technologically creative directors working today. His use of binaural audio for last year’s Donmar Warehouse’s production of Macbeth starring David Tennant and Cush Jumbo was divisive but added new levels of immersion to the staid work. His take on the novel Life of Pi is renowned for its use of projections and puppets that convincingly portrayed the story of a boy at sea trapped on a boat with a tiger.

His take on Minority Report is less impressive than those two productions, with Jon Bausor’s set relying more on smart visual effects and stage design to imagine this near-future world. A driverless taxi cab which later doubles as a police vehicle is kept static with projections used to give a sense of speed. David pops up either in physical form or as a projection as Anderton tries to escape. There is nothing in this vision of 2050 that could not have been created in 2000.

His direction is flaccid in the first few acts with limp wordy exposition followed by unconvincing character interactions and reactions. The street scenes echo Blade Runner’s dark, rainy aesthetic; then again, Harrison Ford didn’t have to run past actors who suddenly and inexplicably break out into dance numbers. The idea to have a desperate Anderton lose her RP accent and adopt McNee’s native Scouse one is a neat touch but balanced out by having a protestor with probably the most hackneyed Italian accent since Joe Dolce. The cheeky snark aimed at modern AI tools like Alexa, Siri and Apple watches look daft when the writer demonstrates a shaky understanding of deep fakes, AI and machine learning.

Haig had a wide remit from the Dick estate and he has been working on this project for a while - he talks in the programme about writing some of it during the pandemic - yet it is often emotionally flat and barely fleshes out anyone except Anderton. The real villain of this murder-mystery can be spotted from near the beginning even if their motive and method for escaping punishment are both related to a piece of technology which is only mentioned at the very end. Could ChatGPT have done a better job? Probably.

Worse than all that, though, are the many, many plot holes and other unexplained or preposterous parts of this story. A woman suffering “profuse bleeding” should have some blood over her and not be able to jump out of taxi cabs like a gazelle on speed. People with neuropins fitted walk undetected into government buildings, get thrown out and then sneak back into those same buildings without causing an immediate alarm. In a possible snub to Chekhov, Anderton pulls out a gun that has never been shown before. Printers are important part of the Pre-crime process in 2050 when they are barely used today. How does a politician of all people get away with not having a working neuropin? A system of having all Pre-crime reports in the UK filtered through one set of three pre-cogs and then two officials was not designed with efficiency in mind. There’s no explanation for how, when hunted by MetPol, Anderton can walk around London - already one of the most surveilled cities in the world - without being recognised.

The worst crimes in this flashy play are, strangely, ones that couldn’t be easily predicted given the talent on board: a script that feels unfinished and under-researched, acting that fails to carry us along and a set that belies Webster’s ingenuity. What could potentially have ridden the wave of sci-fi-based plays like last year’s acclaimed Stranger Things: The First Shadow and Anthropology lacks both the philosophical thrust of Dick’s original text and the action chops of the Spielberg film, despite clear signs of leaning towards both.

Minority Report continues until 18 May.

Photo credit: Marc Brenner