Pros: Some witty and perceptive writing, with a strong supporting cast
Cons: A lacklustre central performance from the writer/director
If you passed Dom in the street, with his square glasses, neat moustache and schoolboy haircut, you’d think he was a parody of an accountant. But Dom is a robot therapist, whose job it is to immerse himself in households and configure the resident robot – the AI – to be the perfect match for the occupants. “If you have an argument it will get involved,” he explains, “but it won’t take sides.” Understanding the intricacies of each household’s dynamic means that Dom is as much confessor and confidant as technical engineer. When we first meet him, he’s configuring a robot for the oddly-named Dennis, a young woman wearing only a bath towel (for reasons that are never explained), who’s worried about her partner’s desire for a baby. Dennis is played by Emily Cundick, in a stand-out performance of tremendous vitality and presence: a shame, then, that she’s on stage for only two short scenes.
In his private life, Dom is very private indeed. He’s still getting over his divorce, one year down the line, replaying his ex-wife’s voicemails on a regular basis. This is despite the protestations of Kurtus, his own AI – a belligerent, argumentative robot who’s more best mate than servant; when Kurtus is at his most uppity, Dom threatens him with the ultimate indignity of turning his ‘sass’ levels down. But Kurtus also writes dreamy piano music, which helps to calm Dom’s fractured spirit. Dom’s problem is that he can’t relate to real people. “What happened to your face? You’re all wet,” he asks when meeting his best friend from university, Adams (Stella Richt) after her boyfriend has left her. “The idea of love is what you’re in love with,” she explains in a telling scene. Dom is utterly at sea with the sexual advances of his client Eva (Maja Laskowska), whose long-term AI he is terminating to make way for one more in tune with her changing family. This termination is an emotional scene: “Even in my last moments on this planet I remain a loyal servant of sir and madam,” wails Cub, Emily Cundick’s AI. “They die like we do,” Dom explains to the aghast Eva. “That’s the cost of making them almost human.”
Artificial is written and directed by Luke Culloty, who also plays the character of Dom. And this is a pity, because he really needs someone to direct him: his delivery is diffident, frequently gabbled, and at times almost whispered. Even in the small confines of the 48-seater Hen and Chickens, he was hard to hear, but the show was only playing here for one night, in preparation for the Edinburgh Festival. When it gets to Edinburgh he’s really going to have to up both his game and his volume. When a character is on stage for the entire performance, he needs a lot of charisma and energy to engage an audience for an hour and a half. It’s hard to relate to Dom’s insouciant persona.
Some of the production choices are curious. With no furniture, all the action takes place with the characters sitting on the floor – which is OK for the raked seating of the Hen and Chickens, but which could render the cast almost invisible in the makeshift theatres of the Edinburgh Festival. We can cope with the characters drinking coffee out of wine glasses, and alcohol out of what appear to be thermos flasks. But when we see Dom tinkering with the glowing spheres that are the AI units, he does so with – of all things – a chisel. OK, so it’s a metaphor for tools in general; but really? A chisel?
Author: Luke Culloty
Director: Luke Culloty
Producer: Split Note
Booking until: This show has now ended its run at this venue