Nessah Muthy's Sex With Robots And Other Devices imagines a near-future when human AI is a commodity, and a reality. Daniel Perks witnesses the journey from curiosity to acceptance:

It’s the little details that make Sex With Robots And Other Devices so intriguing – the variety in the flooring of Helen Coyston’s set; the subtle mannerisms by which each actor (Isaura Barbé-Brown, Deshaye Gayle and Eleri Jones) distinguishes humanity from robotics; the subtext that slowly unveils itself through Nessah Muthy’s script. In this production’s earlier vignettes, portrayal of Artificial Intelligence has a doll-, or child-, like quality to it – there is a clear separation from the emotional complexity of being an adult human. But as Bobby Brook’s direction slowly unfolds, the lines become blurred and the ethical dilemma becomes more and more convoluted.

Sex Robots King's Head Theatre

Isaura Barbé-Brown

The issue with Sex With Robots And Other Devices is that, while thought-provoking, the individual narratives lack impact because they are devoid of development. Muthy’s piece is a conceptual progression rather than an individual one, and as such it’s more difficult to connect with. But in some ways, there’s a tangible point to that conscious decision – by writing this show as a series of vignettes, rather than the experiences of a single set of characters, we chart society’s overall curiosity and eventual tolerance of the presence of AI in our lives. We as the audience mirror the actors’ journey on stage – initially suspicious of such advanced new technology, we swiftly become normalised and end by emoting towards a manufactured device. Where’s the difference between this and our projected love for current technology – our connection with our mobile phone, or how well smart devices like Alexa and Siri can discover our wants and desires?

Sex Robots King's Head Theatre

Eleri Jones & Deshaye Gale

Much of the success in forming this connection comes from Rosa Manzi-Reid’s movement direction and the standard to which the three actors flit between organic nuance and inorganic efficiency. Not only that, but there is progression in their portrayals; as we slowly become more used to the societal intermingling of our robotic counterparts, their mannerisms become subtly more human. Inflections in speech, intuition & inquisition slowly seep into the performances with frightening innocence.

Brook’s direction is intentionally transactional at the outset – these devices are luxurious purchases, after all. But it slowly morphs and moulds with a barely perceptible shift, mirroring the slow change in Muthy’s language. As the AI develops sentience, deletion becomes synonymous with death, mechanical repair with major surgery. And the scenarios become more chilling as they become more realistic.

Sex Robots King's Head Theatre

Deshaye Gale

There are some points in Sex With Robots And Other Devices that require us to suspend disbelief a touch too far; there are inevitably some scenes that hit their mark with greater force than others. But Muthy’s show asks questions around the speed of development – are we emotionally capable of keeping up with such technological progression? When replication becomes identity theft, or genetic intelligence becomes a substitute for human connection, where will it end? Like Brook’s uncertain and confused conclusion to this show, the reality is that we simply don’t know.

 

 

★★★★☆

Sex With Robots And Other Devices runs at the King’s Head Theatre until 2 June 2018. For further information, please visit the venue website.