Edinburgh Fringe 2017
A one-woman two-hander about the human/robot relationships. We already have relationships with machines in our lives. But, what about a machine who cooks for you, cleans for you, never forgets your birthday or how you like your tea, tells you you’re beautiful, holds you when you’re crying…
Love+ explores the growing relationship between a young woman and an android, a robot, purchased to provide household services. It is set in an almost entirely white, minimalistic flat suggesting a time that could be now, or could be a hundred years hence.
Bot (Breffni Holahan) is a live in robot designed to mimic a human – it/she cooks, cleans, offers compliments, even tries to make jokes. But Bot’s understanding is based on programming and previous responses so lacks the essence of being human that Woman (Cate Russell) craves.
The play opens with a pair of robotic voices listing Asimov’s three laws of robotics…
A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm. A robot must obey orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.
…and then goes on to give the themes and concepts that Asimov explored in his novels a feminist twist whilst undermining the apparent logic and certainty of the laws.
They have extensive conversations about emotion and meaning finding as Bot attempts to adjust her programming to provide the responses that Woman wants. They find these are things that cannot be reduced to certainties. Woman points out that calling her a ‘gorgeous beach babe’ is counter to her programming not to lie.
The story of Woman’s developing relationship with Bot is threaded through with moments to throw us sideways, to remind us of the world of Artificial intelligence – the robotic voices and the impact of slightly different programming of, for example, speed of speech and an interlude with a conversation with a bot on Sensationbot.com (and yes, being a babyboomer I did have to look it up to find that it really does exist).
The writing is strong, sparky and interesting in dramatic writing terms because one of the principles of good drama is that both characters want something and that the action of the story change them in some way, that by the end they have made a journey. However, Bot’s ‘want’ is simply to be and do what Woman wants which could make for a rather one sided conflict. Despite this Malaprop have managed to create a piece with a journey in which both characters are engaging and do change.
Holahan (Bot) portrayed a good sense of the mechanical in both movement and speech countered nicely by Russell’s (Woman) more fluid movements.
The white cuboid design is striking and futuristic and contributes to the sense of a barren sterile world, possibly with another nod to Asimov. At the same time our vision of the future as tidy so far hasn’t happened; the future of the 1950s was all gleaming steel, of the 80s the paperless office, in reality the future seems to be an endless array of more stuff, not less; more emotional complexity, not less.
Overall Love+ is a well-crafted piece that offers an intriguing starter for ten on the subject of the ways that AI might become part of our lives, I left with a whole range of thoughts and emotional responses to it rattling round my head.