Only Human @ Rumpus, Bowden SA 26/2/2020

The world of artificial intelligence is a lot closer than we can imagine. To loosely paraphrase the musings of philosophers like Yuval Harari – AI will most probably replace our engineers, technicians, lawyers, doctors etc. etc. The only humans that they most probably won’t replace are the artists, the storytellers, the musicians. Most probably because AI does not have a soul and cannot connect with our ethereal past, or future.

Only Human by SAYarts tips this idea on the head and ponders the notion of what will happen when AI starts to think, to have emotions, and to go rogue. On the other hand, what about the AI beings that go the other way and feel love; to love human beings.

These are great ideas to ponder and are cleverly written by Sophia Simmons and masterfully realised for the stage by Claire Glenn.

Given some meaty dramatic irony to work with, Glenn taps into some absurdist moments straight out of Beckett, Kafka and Stoppard. At other times she incorporates physical theatre and Ann Bogart’s Viewpoints with some engaging grid work which makes the play visually engaging thus making the intellectual content more palatable. Simmons, is in fact careful not to be overly didactic and her writing has a good balance of frothy dialogue and heady ideas.

The best lines in the play are reserved for the talented young leads, Emma Gregory and Luke Furlan. Emma, as the Human takes the dangerous first steps to emotionally engage with the iBot (the Artificial Intelligence being) played by Luke Furlan. Emma brings to this role a nice balance of being coy and reserved with a touch of coquettishness and audacious abandon. For her courage and willingness to ‘connect,’ the iBot rewards her with a superb rendition of Lennon and McCartney’s,

“Ooh I need your love babe

Eight days a week”

This is a standout moment in the play. Luke Furlan has got a terrific voice and works the song in beautifully, breaking up the awkwardness of the romantic moment.

Jonah Stewart, the Creator of the most advanced artificial intelligence, the uBot and David Lawton as the uBot are almost Pythonesque in their laugh out loud moments on stage. Wearing awkwardly gauche costumes they have got the gestures, the voice, and the comic timing to mix up the dramatic tension with a dose of levity.

SAYarts are a fairly large cast, and director Claire Glenn, has given her youthful ensemble clever group scenes with purposeful choreography, robotic voices and chase scenes straight out of the Keystone Cops.

This is all enhanced by some very effective lighting by Anthony Kelly. He works the black box theatre that is Rumpus in Bowden well, and gives plenty of creative space for Stu Nankivell and Michael Rostig to weave some magic with their projections and animations. Add to this a nicely crafted soundscape created by Adam Ritchie that includes original compositions and The Beatles, it all makes for a very enjoyable evening of theatre.

Well done SAYarts. It is good to see young talent being given clever material to work with and to be thoughtfully directed.

And a big plug for Rumpus Theatre. It is a terrific venue and a great place to nurture young talent.

Fringe Review By Bob Becker

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