Uncanny Valley

Edinburgh Science Festival
Summerhall, Edinburgh
Thursday 1st April 

Script:Inline image 1Stagecraft: Inline image 4Performance: Inline image 3

This was a cracker of a show, for older kids and adults alike. I can’t find a way to fault it. It’s an interactive affair, tightly constructed but still with room for the audience to shout out answers, have a go at narrating and get drafted in on stage for a cameo. It’s the story of a withdrawn teenage girl, Ada (Pamela Reid) and OKAY (Outstandingly Knowledgeable Android Youth), the robot that she’s created who is at risk of being sent to its destruction by the technophobic town mayor (Kirsty Stewart), It also asks an outstandingly varied array of questions about what it means to be human, and in what ways that might differ from a robot, packed into the confines of a fast-paced and intriguing show that runs at 70 minutes.

Rob Drummond, already known for successes with his adult shows Bullet Catch and Quiz Show, not only wrote this one, but acted as the ebullient school teacher who bounced out on stage right from the start, and the eager but frustrated adoptive parent of Ada. Kirsty Stewart who played the anachronistic mayor (with just enough touches of a Hogwarts teacher with her feather quill) and the excitable foster mother gave a particularly commanding, humorous performance. Pamela Reid as Ada looked so haunted and sad through most of the show we grew attached to OKAY along with her and really feared for its demise. The small cast were slick and enthusiastic, and drew their young crowd along with them on the quest to tell the difference between human and robot. They were keen from the outset to treat the children’s opinions with great respect, and the young audience didn’t disappoint either; answering questions from a place of deep thought, and due to brisk pacing, remained completely engaged throughout. No easy feat for 8 to 12 year olds for over an hour!

The set was simple but very effective, especially its use of lighting. The sound effects worked beautifully to make the sound of the robotic voice and eerie noises to raise the spook level. Amongst the drama and the soul searching, there was a smattering of silly antics and toilet humour to keep the kids laughing and the atmosphere light. Even though it was lighthearted and fun, this play asked some very deep questions to stimulate some thought about the role of robots in our lives forty years down the line.

The main climax of the play and the the main point of the debate came down to the ‘Turing Test’, a test devised by Alan Turing, the famous mathematician to see if a machine of artificial intelligence could fool people into believing it was human, then it would have reached a major milestone. My son had a crack at answering how long it would take someone to read the entire contents of the internet if they read 24/7. His guess was the highest at 1,000 years, but was way off the estimate of 57,000 years! Questions for the robot were gathered from members of the audience, who came up with some great ideas, like ‘can you recognise yourself?’, ‘are you aware that you exist?’ and, ‘do you love anyone?’ and integrated into the story line of the Turing Test. There was one particularly bright spark who came up with ‘do you value your own life?’

It opened up an entire world of new conversation with my 12 year old son on the walk home. What range of factors made a personality? What was the difference between having true empathy and faking it? All the way home…Which as it was the whole point of this highly engaging and thoughtful show, commissioned by the Edinburgh International Science Festival and Imaginate, I would rate it a grand success. I wonder what the future will hold. If the up and coming generation are all so equally engaged, then the future is in good hands; human or maybe even robotic! We, the parents and grandparents, might not be around to see. Which is a shame; I’d like to know the ending.

Reviewer: Lisa Williams

Reviewer: Lisa Williams
Inline image 5

Posted on April 1, 2016, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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