Theatre Review - anthropology

MyAnna Buring and Dakota Blue Richards in anthropology [The Other Richard]

MERRIL (MyAnna Buring) is a software engineer whose life implodes when her younger sister Angie (Dakota Blue Richards) vanishes on her way home from college. She is presumed dead, although her body is never found. After the police close the case, Merril buries herself in work.

In an attempt to assuage her grief, Merril builds a digital simulation of her sister using all the data that is in Angie’s phone, computer and online. She throws her texts, emails, voicemail and Facebook posts into an algorithm. The virtual Angie provides some solace – she even helps Merril reconnect with her ex-girlfriend Raquel (Yolanda Kettle) after sending her a text.

Ten years ago Charlie Brooker’s Be Right Back, from the second series of Black Mirror, explored how AI could imitate a deceased loved one after being fed the digital data they left behind.

So Lauren Gunderson’s main premise isn’t particularly original, but she explores interesting questions about what separates AI from human intelligence, and whether it can outsmart us.

Initially, Anna Ledwich’s static staging has a distancing effect – when Merril is talking to virtual Angie via her computer it’s as though we are watching a telephone conversation. This isn’t helped by Georgia Lowe’s sparse set comprising a desk, two laptops and a monitor.

However, when Angie’s face materialises onscreen, and the chatbot suggests that she may not have died after all, Gunderson’s drama ignites and becomes a gripping thriller about the opportunities and potential threats posed by AI.

Buring and Richards develop a convincing rapport as siblings and survivors of a messy childhood. The pair are ably supported by Kettle and Abigail Thaw (who plays the sisters’ estranged mum) although Gunderson gives them less to work with.

I suspect anthropology may divide audiences, but I found it both thought-provoking and affecting.

Until October 14

Originally published by Camden New Journal