First Fridays are back! Robots in review and join us for Journeys

First Fridays are back! Robots in review and join us for Journeys

Montage of Robots! images
30 Nov 2023

First Fridays relaunched at Marine Studios on Friday 3 November with Return of the Robots, centred on the work of theatre maker Robert Poulter and the ongoing graphic novel, illustrated and written by Richard Houghton. Join us on Friday 1 December for Journeys with Travis Elborough.

Upon entering the space I was met by an array of robots and robot memorabilia, a cabinet of curiosities, books and kits to make your own miniature robot, a table on which Sphyros, App-Enabled Robotic Balls from the HKD studio spin across the table and up and down ramps. Another drawbot followed the line of a black marker, while a little girl drew her name in her biggest and most cursive handwriting. On the other side of the room, Marine Studios' 3D printer was at work, printing its own robot. It is almost finished by the time we leave the space. 


Rossum’s Universal Robots aka R.U.R.

Both Poulter’s show piece and Richard Houghton’s graphic Novel are inspired by the same original play, R.U.R. Rossumovi Univerzální Roboti or Rossum's Universal Robots. The play is a 1920 science-fiction play by the Czech writer Karel Čapek. Though this play is said to be the birthplace of the word robot itself, Capek’s robots were more similar to today’s androids - less mechanical devices as the retro robot we might imagine, but rather more artificial organisms that quite resemble humans. 

In fact, this is the theme of the Robert’s show from the New Model Theatre,  ‘Robert’s unruly robots’, the idea ‘that you can’t tell who’s who anymore’, an opening scene shows that one of the main characters whose name is ‘half and half’ denoting that he is half human half robot, commits a murder on an actual human butler that he’d mistaken for being a robot.

Robert’s unruly Robots R.U.R.

Robert uses a cardboard theatre set up with numerous sliding backdrops, props  and characters, one that he says mixes the traditional puppet theatre with his own design. All drawn and created by himself, he interchanges the scenes meticulously and beautifully. One scene depicts an entire room of famous robots in literature. Along with both live and recorded sound elements and dialogue, there’s a digital backdrop, which lights, moves and changes colour.

In a 23-minute playtime, the whole scope of detail, work and aliveness that Poulter brings to the show is astonishing. As we follow  two undercover agents try to find the source of the robot rebellion, Capek’s and Poulter’s play, equally comic and tragic, enacts a rare end, the humans do not triumph, as audience members we are left to this realisation, in the last scene of the play, that in fact “this will not be a happy ending”.  


Magic Meddling in Mankind

The warmup play, in contrast - the first of the two to be shown this evening - is called ‘Magic Meddling in Mankind’ and is a shorter, more musical, absurdist play where magicians, alchemists and mad scientists try to create a new life ‘out of the old one’. This play features a recording of Poulter himself stage left, playing numerous different instruments and objects which create the sound track. 

Much of the audience stay around after the plays to find out some secrets of the set as well as to explore references and research. Poulter has numerous little sketchbooks to hand to show examples of his very extensive thought process.


R.U.R. the graphic novel

Back in the exhibition space, Richard Houghton exhibits his graphic Novel in progress which too takes its inspiration from Capek’s play, he however changes location from the original play - a factory complex on an Island of unspecified location - to an orbiting space station. This aesthetic shift sees the appear more futurist, less apocalyptic, although indeed, the people and bots will see the same fate, living automats, without souls, desires or feelings will triumph.  The graphic Novel follows the same 3 acts of the original, while kept very close to the original translation, it has been adapted and rewritten.  The final scene sees the remaining human giving an emotional and philosophical soliloquy, suggesting the world's end as he knows it. 


More at Marine

Finally, around the corner at Marine studios we find the studio of Dan Thompson, an artist and writer who has let us in for a peak at his workshop which is full of prints, poster, collages and sculptures, work in progress and items for sale. Dan’s visual language, too, harks back to a mix of mechanical reproduction, craft and his own artistic vision. 

Perhaps it remains to date, one of our planet’s biggest artistic and social preoccupations; the balance and conflict between the old and new, the advanced and obsolete, the human, android and cyborg. 

Join our next First Friday event at Marine Studios on 1 December, where writer Travis Elborough will speak on his latest book, ‘The Writers' Journey’ alongside local artists and writers with a travel and map themed exhibition and activities.

For reels and more, keep an eye on the Marine Studios YouTube channel and Instagram.

Robots reel by Cheri Allcock

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