Pros: Rats is smart and hilarious, with excellent performances and a bitingly relevant script.
Cons: The ending is predictable, and some of the emotional moments feel under-explored.
In 2016, Microsoft released Tay, a chatbot that could learn by interacting with people on the internet. Sadly, the chatbot had to be shut down after it began spouting Nazi slogans and sexually explicit messages. If machines can learn from humans, they can also learn our biases, our flaws, and our cruelty. We should not be so quick to trust in algorithms, and yet we do. After all, when has a computer ever been wrong?
Rats imagines a future where human ego is suppressed at birth, and decisions are left to an omnipotent computer. These ‘rationals’ (or ‘rats’) make up the majority of the population, and work menial, meaningless jobs under the supervision of a few government officials who have not undergone suppression (called ‘conscious’ or ‘cons’). The system is jeopardised however, when one rat decides to become conscious, and one con decides to help her.
Rats is an achievement of high-concept, comic writing. Dystopian comedy is not always easy to pull off, particularly when tackling big philosophical ideas like existence, freedom, morality, and religion. Gaël van den Bossche has managed to do something quite remarkable, in creating a story that is both funny and thought-provoking, questioning current trends in technology and warning of their future application.
The performances are all excellent, but special credit is due to Hayley Osborne, who plays Lynn, the rat who decides to become conscious. Osborne has the unenviable task of going from automaton to conscious individual, but does so in a way that is entirely believable and emotionally powerful. Also impressive are Charlotte Bloomsbury and Mike Parker, as rats Katy and Robert, whose robotic observations provide much of the dry comedy, and David Clayton as George, the con who becomes increasingly unhinged as his world falls apart.
The real strength of the play is that it can be read in several different ways. Concerns over data use and omnipotent technology have obvious parallels with our present. The play can also serve as a criticism of modern capitalism, where automation makes humans increasingly superfluous, but they are given pointless jobs to keep them occupied. The reliance on technology has religious overtones, and the play also deals with existential questions of finding meaning in a meaningless world, loneliness, and the need for companionship.
There are some drawbacks. The ending of the play is quite predictable, even for audiences unfamiliar with the dystopian and science fiction from which Rats draws its inspiration. Additionally, the play often leaves its more emotional moments under-explored. While this may be understandable for a comedy, the play has opportunities to expand upon the deeper nature of humanity, love, and friendship, some of which are missed.
Rats is a very fine work of science fiction comedy that questions the role of technology in our lives, and cautions against a future determined by machines.
Author/ Producer: Gaël van den Bossche
Director: Josh Hinds
Box Office: 020 7482 4857
Booking Link: http://www.etceteratheatre.com/details.php?show_id=2821
Booking Until: 24th November 2018