King’s Head Theatre, London – until 2 June 2018
Whether you like or not, time and technological developments are marching on, impacting every aspect of our lives – including sex and relationships. Nessah Muthy’s new play proposes that soon the technology behind life-like robot Sophia will combine with hyper-realistic sex dolls already incorporating AI. In the world of the play, most people choose to buy themselves a made-to-order companion that satisfies all of their needs.
A collage of short scenes depicting a range of relationships introduces a variety of scenarios where sexbots could be used. Whilst all are generally tenable, it becomes clear that Muthy’s script opposes the concept. These sexbots are highly sophisticated and believably human, to the point they are capable of independent thought. Of the cast of three, Isaura Barbe-Brown best captures the robot characters – she perfectly blends mechanical and human movements to convince us how personable and engaging this technology is to lonely and/or unsatisfied people.
Though this doesn’t quite go in the direction of AI taking over the world, the script begins to pose some provocative questions about consent, violence and AI autonomy. The show should come with a content warning for rape, consent and violence, though the text and Bobby Brook’s direction sensitively sets most of the sex off-stage.
Designer Helen Coyston and lighting designer Tanya Stephenson work together to create a simple yet considered set that demonstrates the universality of this world. A collection of different lighting fixtures and a mosaic of flooring panels indicates these experiences happen with all sorts of people. Indeed, the scenes we see include a multitude of stories, but their brevity means we only have the briefest of peeks into their lives.
Though not a totally unique premise in theatre – Instructions for Correct Assembly is running at the same time – the focus on sexuality and AI advancement to the point of autonomous thinking is a compelling combination. The characters’ narratives are neglected in favour of theme here, but the chosen format certainly emphasises that we must take care in this area of development.