The First Science Fiction Theater Plays

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Unknown Genre

People who love theater may not be aware that there is a genre of theater plays that encompasses the literary science fiction genre. I know that if I start recounting all of the theater plays that I am aware of (those that I have seen and those that I haven’t) I am not going to come across a single science fiction play. But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t any. On the contrary, there are about twenty well-known plays from that genre and it is a little known fact that the word robot was introduced to popular culture through a science fiction theater play Rossum’s Universal Robots by Czech writer Karel Capek.

The First Plays

Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde

One of the most famous works of literature that has permeated the general awareness of mainstream culture is The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson. The novella, written in 1886,  was adapted into a four-act theater play by Thomas Russell Sullivan in the following year.

It is this play that portrays perhaps the first uncanny transformation of a human into a murderous, top-hat wearing  hominid who represents the degeneration of Dr. Jekyll into a lesser being. Shocked theater-goers were taken aback by the idea. Coincidentally, the play opened in London in 1888, just before the occurrence of the first murders of Jack the Ripper.


The first science fiction play, however, predates Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by many years. It was Presumption; or, the Fate of Frankenstein adapted from the novel Frankenstein by Mary Shelley This is the first adaptation for theater of this novel which lasted from 1823 until the 1850’s. The innovative approach taken by the play’s producer came as byproduct of the strict rules and expectations about what a play constitutes, as set by Charles II.

The Fate of Frankenstein included pantomime, music and spectacle that wooed theatre-goers and appeased the authorities. Frankenstein was so successful that it had its production in Paris, New York City and subsequently, other places around the world.

Rossumovi Univerzální Roboti

Rossum’s Universal Robots by Karel Capek was written in 1920 and first performed in 2021. The play features the production of artificial people which are made of synthetic and organic parts and components. Thusly, these people aren’t robots in the contemporary understanding of the term for robot. Capen developed these humanoids to be able to think for themselves which leads them to rise up in a rebellion, after having realized that they have been working for humans. Humankind has been wiped by a robot rebellion. Both for R.U.R. and for War with the Newts, Capek was inspired by the political changes which occurred in his time, mainly the rise of Nazism and Communism, both of which he despised and wrote against.

Universal Robot Slots Machines

As it can be seen, science fiction theatre has very early beginnings, but also not too before the appearance of what may be considered the first sci-fi film – Le Voyage dans la Lune by Georges Méliès in 1902. Today there are too many sci-fi movies to count, both short and feature, but there aren’t too many sci-fi plays. 

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