Breakfast Plays: Tech Will Tear Us Apart (?): The Girl in the Machine

2016BREAKFA_TR (1)

Theatre

Traverse Theatre (venue 15)

09.00

16 – 28 Aug (not 22)

****

 Brilliant!

 

Polly and Owen have been together for some years, have been thinking about having a baby together.  Polly, a corporate lawyer, has just been promoted and her career is demanding so much of her attention that, while denying that she is addicted to her phone, she seems barely aware that Owen has a life, a career, and the desire to share his successes with her as well as rejoicing in hers.

 

Polly’s problems begin with the appearance of a new app that seems to have come from nowhere, offering the possibility of creating new songs by dead musicians by sampling their existing works and synthesising key elements into new compositions.  Polly’s firm is engaged in sorting out the complexities of this new legal ‘grey area’ and her new promotion has put her in charge.  Despite attempts to prevent the spread of the app, it goes viral, and an even more disturbing phenomenon appears – it seems that within the programming of the app is a programme that enables people to ‘upload’ themselves into the Internet: their body ceases to function but their consciousness enters the internet, and appears to be able to send messages back to the living.  [Shades of Terry Pratchett’s Going Postal here, with the idea that someone is never forgotten as long as their name is still being spoken…]

 

The death toll rises and Polly is made a scapegoat for what is seen as her firm’s failure to contain/ prevent this: she is sacked.  Fearing that she will never again be employed, she descends into depression and spends even more time attached to her phone, withdrawing further and further from Owen and resisting all his attempts to revitalise their life together…  Society begins to disintegrate as more and more is shut down or destroyed in an attempt to stop the spread of this viral threat, ending up with no gadgets or appliances, and electricity itself being shut off.  Owen remarks that the house is so much better with no appliances in it, and appreciates the silence when all the buzzing stops.

 

The play raises so many questions – the addictive nature of technology, the corporate world’s need for a scapegoat when something goes wrong (“you should have been ready, you should have foreseen this, it’s all your fault”), and the possibility that maybe the Artificial Intelligence itself developed this app – (how did it get through all the security?  There’s no trace of its origin, no trail to show how it arrived).

 

A recurring theme is the search for escape from life’s problems, the idea that “being uploaded” will be a blissful end to the isolation, loneliness and constant procession of thoughts rushing through one’s head, the immense pressure, the bombardment of stimuli, ideas, must dos…  Owen’s desperation is heart-rending as he watches the one he loves disappear in front of his eyes while being powerless to help.  It’s a study in obsession/ addiction: the growing distance between the couple, indicated at the beginning as she sits cross-legged on her chair, hunched round her phone, attentive to it rather than him, is mirrored in the gradual movement apart of their chairs.

 

Despite being an unstaged reading, the characters were real and rounded, and the situation brought vividly to life – the passion is bursting out of the actors and reaching out to hook us and draw us in.

 

Another cracking start to the day – well worth getting up early for!

Mary Woodward