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The Test, White Bear Theatre – Review

Pros: Thought-provoking questions are raised in this well-staged drama.
Cons: Unnatural performances, an attempt to explore far too much and an unconvincing sci-fi story let this play down.

Pros: Thought-provoking questions are raised in this well-staged drama. Cons: Unnatural performances, an attempt to explore far too much and an unconvincing sci-fi story let this play down. In Ian Dixon Potter’s play The Test, computer scientist Dora may be about to succeed in one of the great technological endeavours of our time – creating an artificially intelligent consciousness that can pass the Turing Test by being distinguishable from, and more like a human than, a computer. Though her colleague ‘The Professor’ is sceptical and fears the consequences of the project, Dora perseveres, bringing in a computer hacker just released from serving time for his…

Summary

Rating

Poor

At just an hour long, this play is trying to do too much, but any longer and it might have become boring. Decently enjoyable for those interested in computer science and artificial intelligence.

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In Ian Dixon Potter’s play The Test, computer scientist Dora may be about to succeed in one of the great technological endeavours of our time – creating an artificially intelligent consciousness that can pass the Turing Test by being distinguishable from, and more like a human than, a computer. Though her colleague ‘The Professor’ is sceptical and fears the consequences of the project, Dora perseveres, bringing in a computer hacker just released from serving time for his hijinks, to ‘hijack the internet’ and give her creation the space it needs to come into being.

The Test has an undeniably interesting premise; modern ‘mad scientist’ Dora is not grave-robbing or anatomically minded like Doctor Frankenstein, but she has similar aims and is, almost inevitably, eventually outmatched by her creation. However, the many implications of Dora’s seeming success, and the great number of themes this play attempts to explore, do not fit into the space of an hour. It is no wonder everything starts to sound clumsy and clichéd when capitalism, global warming, religion and Trump are mentioned in the same breath. Dora often speaks as if listing things, and one wonders why Potter restricted himself to such a short running time and didn’t bring more focus to his work.

The actors struggle to make any of their actions or conversations seem realistic. Duncan Mason as Josh the hacker and Natasha Killam as Dora react far too calmly to succeeding in creating conscious artificial intelligence, and Zara Banks as The Professor must display a constant outrage at Dora’s antics which seems overacted and strange. It is unclear whether these problems are due to the actors, Potter’s direction or the writing. However, it all seems to jar a bit. These problems could perhaps have been rectified if the play had been more rigorously edited and more time had been taken with the staging. In the wonderfully intimate space of the White Bear Theatre, with its quality lighting system, problems with the show do unfortunately stand out quite a bit.

This is not to say that the play isn’t at times enjoyable and thought-provoking. A particularly interesting point is raised by Siri-like ‘Mother’ (as Dora names her handiwork): aren’t humans machines just like her, programmed not by a sole person but by natural selection, to constantly propagate their genes? The discussion that Mother,
Dora and Josh have about free will is engaging as well. Mother believes that, as she is conscious and intelligent but with no animal nature, she is the only being in existence that can exercise free will.

Though this piece displays a disappointing lack of depth, attempting to touch upon an exasperatingly large number of themes, and presenting a narrative too sci-fi and broad-brush to be believable, it is not a bad way to spend an evening. At just an hour long, patrons of the cosy and old-fashioned White Bear Pub can stroll upstairs, enjoy a bit of theatre that may not thrill but definitely raises lots of pertinent questions, and then go back down for another drink.

Written and Directed by: Ian Dixon Potter
Producer: Golden Age Theatre Company
Box Office: 020 7793 9193
Booking Link: https://lineupnow.com/event/the-test
Booking Until: 30 September 2017

About Beatrix Scott Swanson