Eliza’s Adventures in the Uncanny Valley review: Can a riddle keep us interested?

Dublin Theatre Festival: The audience are stuck when a piece of theatre denies its characters humanity

Eliza’s Adventures in the Uncanny Valley: Pan Pan explores the influence of artificial intelligence on our capacity to be human

Eliza’s Adventures in the Uncanny Valley: Pan Pan explores the influence of artificial intelligence on our capacity to be human

a
 

ELIZA’S ADVENTURES IN THE UNCANNY VALLEY

Samuel Beckett Theatre, Trinity College Dublin
★ ★
Pan Pan Theatre’s latest theatrical experiment explores the influence of artificial intelligence on our capacity to be human. The laboratory in which it unfolds has the sterile domesticity of countless contemporary settings. Aedín Cosgrove’s design simultaneously offers us the blank slate of a therapy suite, the clinical vacuum of a modern hotel and the tidy uniformity of an Ikea-kitted home.

We are not quite sure about its inhabitants, either, who deliver layer upon layer of variously sourced quotations in a flat-vowelled drone, refusing eye contact in all but the most excitable of circumstances. Which of them are human, we are asked to consider. How much of them is human? Gavin Quinn and Eugene O’Brien, who “collaboratively generated” the performance text, are keeping it deliberately ambiguous.

In their exchanges, performed outwardly to the audience as if to a camera, Marvin (Andrew Bennett), Sophia (Amy Molloy) and Eric (Dylan Tighe) reveal the limitations of their machine-manipulated minds, as Mrs H (Jane McGrath), who is possibly the architect of this experimental endeavour, prompts them with exercises designed to challenge their potential behaviours.

Eliza (Genevieve Hulme-Beaman), with her wet eyes and worried frown, is, perhaps, different. Her failure to connect seems to be born from something more recognisable, but, then again, maybe she just hasn’t been part of the experiment for as long as the others have. Si Schroeder’s portentous sound design, which thickens as the performance proceeds towards its equivocal conclusion, certainly suggests this possibility.

But how is an audience supposed to react to a piece of theatre that denies its characters humanity? Empathy and recognition go out of the window, for a start, but is a riddle enough to keep us interested? It is really not until the final exchanges that anything about this uncanny exercise in AI’s threat to the human personality becomes clear, as Mrs H hits us with a punchline that would be funny were the previous 90 minutes a bit more so. If this is the future the characters are so concerned with, we should indeed be worried.

Runs until Sunday, October 7th

a
The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
GO BACK
Error Image
The account details entered are not currently associated with an Irish Times subscription. Please subscribe to sign in to comment.
Comment Sign In

Forgot password?
The Irish Times Logo
Thank you
You should receive instructions for resetting your password. When you have reset your password, you can Sign In.
The Irish Times Logo
Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.
Screen Name Selection

Hello

Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
Forgot Password
Please enter your email address so we can send you a link to reset your password.

Sign In

Your Comments
We reserve the right to remove any content at any time from this Community, including without limitation if it violates the Community Standards. We ask that you report content that you in good faith believe violates the above rules by clicking the Flag link next to the offending comment or by filling out this form. New comments are only accepted for 3 days from the date of publication.