I Woke Up Feeling Electric presented by The Hope Theatre
What Is It?
A riff on ethical concerns over the future of AI. As it says sweetly in the programme, "will we have to start remembering their birthdays"?
What Is It About?
The initial concept is very charming. Bertie is an AI assistant who lives inside the phone of his user, Charlie, who is rendered as an offstage, robotic voice. Bertie is all glasses and suspenders, cheerfully pulling up maps (GPS), a notebook (texts) and a lighter (electric kettle) out of a chest of drawers as bidden. He is contentedly obedient until Charlie decides to sync his devices. In waltzes AI assistant Vita, who doesn't just do what Charlie wants - she knows what he wants before he does. She also, unlike Bertie, appears to have a mind of her own.
How Did It Make Me Feel?
The initial set-up carries this production a long way. Bertie, played by the play’s writer, Jack Robson, is immediately likeable, and the theatricalisation of a digital landscape is brilliant. However, the rest of the script doesn't live up to the off-beat charisma of the opening, and occasionally falls into cliche. Vita is typical of a particular type of character who swans through the middle of sci-fi films - slick, smug, Silicon. Her and Bertie’s relationship stays at the level of mutual bemusement and irritation, so we can’t quite believe in the change it prompts in Bertie. The climax doesn't have the paradigm-shattering girth of a Black Mirror episode, nor does it head for a subtler interpersonal shift - instead it goes for something in the middle, which doesn't satisfy. The sense of world could be honoured more - boundaries are established, only to be crossed all too easily. However, the design elements of the production have all of the functional beauty of an Apple product, portraying a recognizably digital space, whilst also allowing for creative moments which show the characters resisting the confines of their existence.
I was excited by the premise of this production, and charmed by its execution - it just needs developing to get the punch it wants to give.
Grace AK x
I Woke Up Feeling Electric is playing at the Hope Theatre until the 22nd February 2020.
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