Have you ever wondered why your smart speaker is female? What made its creators give it that voice? Does it comfort us more than a male one? Delve deeper, and consider how such Artificial Intelligence might cope with queerness if it has never been programmed with information about that concept. And if AI is made in the image of its creator, how might it handle ideas which they have never considered? Sam Pout’s Fisheye immerses us in such thoughts in an incredibly refreshing way, at times humorously, and with a depth that is more than satisfying.
Alecks (Ruaridh Aldington) and Murphy (Flora Douglas) are alone on a desolate world. Except they aren’t on Earth, but rather have been uploaded to the cloud, controlled by AI Iona (Mai Weisz). They aren’t totally alone because Phi (Clare Noy) is there, although she isn’t human, but rather a glitch in the machine code – a stray programme that shouldn’t exist. Phi offers Murphy what she really wants but cannot quite bring herself to admit; because surely she and Alecks are right for each other, man and woman in a perfect world?
Fisheye is one of those plays where you may find new meanings from repeat viewings, some of which might not have even been the writer’s intention; is Phi part of Murphy or is the wordplay within their names simply to allow for some fun with introductions? What are certainly fully intended, though, are the religious analogies. This world is the Garden of Eden in AI form. Plants and hanging greenery work well to establish this, whilst flickering lights and crackling sounds remind us it’s inside a computer. Alecks and Murphy are the Adam and Eve, except Eve isn’t keen on going forth and multiplying with Adam. Of course a Garden of Eden needs temptation. Here, it is Phi, tempting Murphy with her apple (cider). All of which makes Iona God.
Within this religious framework, Fisheye questions what happens when AI is created in the image of its creator, and where this leaves those who do not fit within their concepts of ‘normal’. How could an AI manage ideas of queerness if it has never been programmed to? Much as religious bigots can argue queerness is against God’s will because the Bible states man is made in God’s image, Fisheye presents the same idea within an AI environment. Here, queerness is a virus in the code that Iona cannot comprehend and needs to have deleted so as not to corrupt everything else.
The complexity of the play is handled wonderfully by its three actors. Aldington’s portrayal of Alecks slowly transforming into a religious zealot, and his anger at Murphy’s refusal to conform to his idea of perfection, is truly chilling. Douglas presents Murphy with a level of confusion, struggling to accept her sexuality and convince Iona that she is not a virus. Lastly, Noy’s Phi offers a directness and almost childlike nature such as is required of a character that is just computer code.
The play’s one (minor) fault is that it perhaps tries too hard to tie things up neatly come the end. Pout should have a little more faith in his writing and trust the audience to interpret his meanings. Instead, the closing scenes become a little drawn out, when we should be left with more of a punch.
Fisheye is an incredible piece of writing with a depth that leaves room for endless debate afterwards. It will challenge you to look at your smart speaker and its female voice in a whole new way. I’ve already been asking Alexa some very odd questions to see what she really thinks about things that don’t fit some people’s ideas of normal!
Written by: Sam Pout
DIrected by: Rosa Higgs
Produced by: Sam Pout and Alice Eve
Lighting design by: Han Sayles
FIsheye plays as part of Omnibus Theatre’s AI Festival until 9 July. Further information and bookings here.