ARTIFICIAL intelligence (AI) lies at the heart of I Woke Up Feeling Electric, a thought-provoking and intelligent play from the newly formed theatre company Brainstem Theatre.
Running at The Hope Theatre in London’s Islington until February 22, it’s the equivalent of Siri on steroids as it examines a world where AI starts to challenge those humans it has been designed to help. It’s a window on an AI dominated world more probable than improbable. All rather scary.
Bertie (Jack Robson, also the play’s writer) has been Charlie’s voice activated AI assistant for three years, four months and 17 days. He’s Charlie’s personal organiser, ensuring Charlie obtains his required caffeine fix in the morning, gets on trains on time and maintains his personal and work diaries while ensuring the home alarm is turned on and off to suit.
He also ensures Charlie (whom we never see, just hear) has as smooth a love life as possible, assuring him that his latest relationship has a 98 per cent chance of success (what a wonderful thought). Bertie is reliable, built to assist, and to bring li…berty (get it?) into Charlie’s life. Perfect harmony between human and AI.
All is going rather swimmingly well until Vita (Christine Prouty) steps in between Charlie and Bertie. She’s a more sophisticated, all-singing, all-dancing form of voice activated AI. She’s built not to react and be servile. She possesses a mind of her own and is prepared to challenge. Part AI, part humanoid – proactive rather than reactive. Suggesting new music to Charlie rather than merely playing pre-selected tunes. Smart AI. Bertie’s rather comfortable world of AI servility is threatened and he doesn’t quite know how to cope with it all. AI redundancy beckons.
It doesn’t end well as Bertie and Vita squabble and are impacted by updates that either scramble them or reboot them without any memory of the past. Obsolescence is just around the corner.
Fascinating fare, although the play is more interesting than powerful, preferring to centre on the relationship between AI standard (Bertie) and AI deluxe (Vita) rather than the more provocative one between human and AI. Charlie’s authority is never seriously in question.
The play is well acted, much of it within a tiny space of an already confined theatre – presumably to represent the finger-tip size of a SIM card. Bertie’s AI meltdown is impressively performed by Robson (a dead ringer for Hugh Grant, or should I say, AI dead ringer) while Prouty ensures Vita is part vibrant AI and part coldly calculating AI. Jacopo Panizza skilfully directs, with a play list (everything from Queen to the Supremes) that is foot tappingly good. All in all, innovative, smart theatre from a production company with a bright future ahead of it – irrespective of a Bertie AI world or a Vita AI future.
Title photo by Stefan Hanegraaf