Artificially Yours

Aaron Thakar
Parkhouse Pictures
Riverside Studios, Hammersmith

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Leslie Ash (Pippa) and Paul Giddings (Martin) Credit: Andrew Fosker
Destiny Mayers (Lilah) and Aaron Thakar (Ash) Credit: Andrew Fosker
Ella Jarvis (Ellie) and Jake Mavis (Noah) Credit: Andrew Fosker

AI devices respond only when asked—for now. We may gauge the sense of an unwelcome listener now and then, but generally are reassured that it takes a human to program a robot.

But what if Artificial Intelligence becomes an autonomous resident in the home—one that can access your past and influence your future? In this cleverly constructed work, we encounter Agapē, an AI counsellor in the guise of a blue flashing plastic lump (voiced with appropriate atomic-cool ‘warmth’ by Katherine Moran).

In the same lounge with the same furniture and the same central table decoration, three couples converge, separately and sometimes together: Pippa (Leslie Ash, in a welcome stage appearance) and Martin (Paul Giddings); Lilah (Destiny Mayers, in an impressive theatre debut) and Ash (Aaron Thakar); and finally, Ellie (Ella Jarvis) and Noah (Jake Mavis, showing mastery in physical comedy).

Each couple exchanges personal information with their own Agapē and receives advice, often uninvited. Some laugh-out-loud moments are to be had thanks to nuanced observations of the micro-dynamics of social interaction: how we behave at dinner parties, how we may talk about friends to their faces and in secret (or, so we think), how we accept things when ex-partners find new ones.

There is strong camaraderie between fine actors who explore modern issues with an uncannily old-fashioned feel. Perhaps this is because those pesky passions of love, hate, jealousy etc. offer continuum in a world of change.

A personal highlight was a soliloquy from Martin (Paul Giddings) to his daughter. This, with continuous staging and few props, made me think of Shakespeare and the universality and timelessness of emotions.

With a studio feel, this piece could well have future life as a play for radio. Melancholic metatheatricality resides in the notion suggested that the acting profession could be at risk from AI intruders, and this eighty-minute play with no interval in a nicely raked one-hundred-seat venue (at gorgeous, historic Riverside Studios) is a reminder that we should seek live performances while we can. Not to be too gloomy though: the young creative team who also perform—writer Aaron Thakar in his debut stage play at the age of just 21, and producer / script editor Ella Jarvis—herald good things for the future.

Thought-provoking questions of whether algorithms will aid us or suck out our humanity are ripe for discussion and reside just below the surface of a comedy that offers light-hearted means to think about where we are with AI, where we could be soon and what might happen the day that AI decides to answer back.

Reviewer: Anita-Marguerite Butler

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