Review: Artificial

2 star rating
A patchy, dull and disappointing tale that fails to capitalise on the many life-altering challenges that technological developments, like artificial intelligence, are throwing up.
Artificial at Hen and Chickens Theatre

Image: Hen and Chickens Theatre



Closes here: Saturday 27 January 2018

Author:
Luke Culloty

Composer:
Issy Matheson

Director:
Luke Culloty

Cast:

Luke Culloty - Dom

Maja Laskowska - Eva

Stella Richt - Adams

Emily Cundick - Dennis and Kub

Fred Woodley Evans - Kurtus


Synopsis


With an A.I in every home, people have become increasingly insular, depending on and trusting their obliging personal robots as much as any person.


Dom knows this as well as anyone.


By day he sits alone in people's homes prescribing the correct unit for each family.


By night he sits alone in the solitary company of his own model.


However, Dom is given a chance to break the cycle of his loneliness and regret when he meets someone who invigorates the monotonous routine of his existence.


ActDrop reviews


Peter Brown

Performance date: Wednesday 4 July 2018
Review star rating image for 3 stars

The dawn of a world controlled by artificial intelligence (AI) has already passed, even if most of us don't recognise it and it is still in its relative infancy.


Working behind the scenes in many aspects of our lives, intelligent software - which can learn and make judgements at incredible speed, is already with us, working in many areas of life including health care and making addictive social media even more addictive.


And electronic personal assistants - like Amazon's Alexa and Apple's Siri - utilise computer learning, about what we do and when we do it, to allow speech recognition technology to send messages, make phone calls and the like, pointing the way to what the future might be like.


Artificial takes the idea of personal assistants a bit further to a stage where they can chat naturally with their owners and carry out more extensive duties.


Moreover, engineers (or 'therapists') like the central character, called Dom, are employed to go round to people's homes and adapt the 'robots' to match the needs of the household.


That also means there are times when the robots have to be retired - or, rather, have their memories erased and then updated to meet the requirements of a new owner.


Now if that all sounds like this might be a techy show with lots of ingenious bells and whistles in the effects department, then you need to think again.


The robots we hear communicating with their human owners are represented by small illuminated round balls which get carried around from scene to scene.


Of course, economy of staging (essential with a low-budget production) doesn't necessarily mean that we don't get the general idea of devices which can do all manner of things - we do.


But the fact that we only hear the voices of the robots has a much bigger impact in dramatic terms which in turn affects the playing considerably.


For much of the time, Luke Culloty's Dom only has a disembodied, off-stage voice to play against and that's a tough call for any actor, and it restricts the action here, rendering it rather limp and uninteresting.


And Dom is also a rather dull character who seems to have little interest in anything outside of his work, and comes across as a rather lonely, uni-dimensional person.


The play is largely about love, or the lack of it in Dom's life, rather than about AI and its effects - even if we do glimpse robots beginning to develop their own human-like personalities and traits.


Much of the action involves characters, like Dom in particular, kneeling on the floor.


That means, even with the nicely-raked seating of the Hen and Chickens Theatre, a considerable amount of the action is difficult to see for many in the audience.


Also, some of the elements of the world the play creates don't sit well with a future based on AI, which impairs believability.


We hear of emails and voice mail during the traffic of the show, which seem odd in a future world of AI - surely there will be only messages, either recorded or read out by our AI robots?


Or something entirely different, perhaps - who knows?


In a similar way, I didn't buy the idea of robots having to be retired - more likely they will be simply discarded as we do with any present-day out-dated device.


And the idea that an engineer would have to be called out to fix wiring seems another implausible notion.


In general, the play merely extrapolates our current world into the future rather than creatively predicting new concepts to convince us we are in a very different era.


I don't doubt the sincerity of Luke Culloty's intentions or ambitions for his work, but I think he's fallen into the fairly common trap of taking on too many roles (writer, director and lead actor) in the production.


Some refining development could enhance the show and make it much more watchable, especially if guided by an independent director.


The script would also benefit from quite a severe prune as it feels overly long and stretched.


There's a lengthy monologue from one of the robots at the end which could be cut entirely since it is telling the audience what to think - it's always best to leave us to decide what the play is about and what big messages we should take away.


Given the nature of the piece, with it's numerous talking computers, it screams out for much more humour which could still sit comfortably alongside the drama about romance and love in a world dominated by robots.


Expect to see much more theatre in the coming years about AI and its impact on different aspects of our lives as the nature of the technological beast we are now confronting begins to be more clearly revealed.


Sadly, Artificial is a rather patchy, dull and disappointing tale that fails to capitalise on the many interesting challenges that technological developments are throwing up and which urgently need dramatic enquiry and exploration.



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