Malaprop Theatre’s two shows playing in rep at Summerhall: Love+ and BlackCatfshMusketeer, are both intelligently-written plays exploring the impact social media and technology has on our lives in conjunction with the human condition. Both plays, which can be seen individually, are full of interesting conversation and exploration, whilst also full of witty one-liners and both are staged in simple but incredibly effective ways.
The first show in rep, ‘Love+’, is a two-hander exploring life as a young woman with a human robot who can do everything for you, from cleaning and cooking, to being nice company and making you cum. The show explores the highs and lows of this digital master-servant relationship, from how idyllic having someone run around for you could be, to questioning consciousness and what being human really means. The script is intelligent and handles the subject matter really well, without sounding patronising or dismissive of artificial intelligence. Most plays about AI tend to either present it as ultimately bad or good, whereas this does neither. It questions what it can really do for us in an emotional way, and in a way which asks how we can, as humans, develop by being around it. A live conversation on the projector screen with an online sex robot highlights the flaws with AI, and how despite all the programming in the world, they will never understand the tiny inflections in human conversation, as well as feel the emotions we do and understand fully the ways in which we communicate.
Both performances by Catherine Russell (also in ‘BlackCatfishMusketeer’) and Breffni Holahan are brilliant, particularly Holahan’s movements as the robot; sharp and mechanical. Holahan also brings some laughs to the performance with excellent comedic timing, her misunderstandings and taking things literally encapsulating the idolects of humans and AI.
The second show in rep by Malaprop, ‘BlackCatfishMusketeer’, was probably my favourite of the two. The show is written so the conversation between a potential couple (Catherine Russell and Ste Murray) takes place entirely through the app; we never see them meet face to face. Staging technology and the internet is often difficult to do as the two worlds seem to jar with each other. (Take ‘wonder.land’ at the National for instance…). In this production, the two speak outwards, to the audience, whilst the ‘Internet’, played by Aoife Spratt, dressed in a bright yellow skirt and round glasses, rings a bell when there is no reply, and explains the links and GIFs being sent across the app.
The script is delightful and hilarious, summing up the awkward banter that begins online conversations before becoming more serious and exploring. Both Russell and Murray are engaging and you can feel the warm relationship between them, despite the sparse interactions they have. Spratt’s expressions and recations as the Internet watching a couple she has facilitated are priceless, though I wish her role had been explained and developed more. The staging consists of multiple white boxes with yellow letters on, like the Internet’s own filing cabinet, which added to the Internet’s clumsy and overworked persona.
Both performances by Malaprop are engaging and well-produced pieces about and around the relationship between technology and human interaction. They present the internet and technology in an understated way which taps into the human psyche without being too explosive or making a farce out of the online world.