Hope Theatre, London – until 22 February 2020
Incoming artistic director Kennedy Bloomer’s reign at the Hope Theatre begins with this quirky little thing from first time writer Jack Robson. In an ever increasingly digital age, I Woke Up Feeling Electric takes the step of anthropomorphising the AI assistants who now adorn many of our homes and devices and asks what life might be like on the other side of the technological divide.
The play starts strongly, all kinds of comic mileage extracted Robson’s conception of Bertie (such is this Siri-like figure named) as a digital Jeeves, responding to any and every request from his unseen owner for information or alarm snooze or calendar reminder with a patient smile and chirpy demeanour. But at the moment when he’s asked to sync with a new, faster, sleeker device – Vita – trouble starts brewing and not the sort you can fix just by turning it off and on again.
As a comedy, I Woke Up… works well, mainly due to Robson’s easy charm and the immediate charge that the arrival of Christine Prouty’s Vita brings. And there’s also a darker thread that lies just beneath the surface, pointing to our over-reliance on tech and our wilful ignorance of the implications of the terabytes of personal data it collates and how it can be abused. Then, as the AI rivalry kicks in, notions of consciousness arrive and start to scramble your brain with their possibilities.
Jacopo Panizza’s production navigates this struggle with a keen eye, aided immeasurably by the evocative elegance of Giorgia Lee Joseph’s sleek production design. And both Robson and Prouty impress as the power balance slowly but inexorably shifts in favour of the shiny and new. An intriguing start to Bloomer’s tenure which promises much.