City Guide to Edinburgh, Scotland

City Guide to Edinburgh, Scotland

Uncanny Valley, Edinburgh International Science Festival, Summerhall, Review


By Irene Brown - Posted on 31 March 2016

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Uncanny Valley  - Ada and OKAY.jpg
Show Details
Venue: 
Summerhall
Company: 
A Borderline Theatre and The Gaiety Theatre co-production
Production: 
Rob Drummond (writer), Emily Reutlinger (director), Fergus Dunnet (design), Kate Bonney (lighting design)
Performers: 
Rob Drummond (teacher and Dave Davidson- Davies), Pamela Reid (Ada), Kirsty Stuart (Mayor and Davina Davidson- Davies)
Running time: 
70mins

What does it mean to be human? That’s a pretty big question for adults, never mind children. But it’s one that’s posed in this latest work aimed at children from playwright Rob Drummond, best known for his highly successful and fearless adult plays Bullet Catch and Quiz Show.

In the imaginary town that gives the play its name, Uncanny Valley, a new girl Ada (Pamela Reid) arrives for her first day in a new school where she meets her cheery teacher (Rob Drummond) dressed in checked shirt and yellow braces. Ada doesn’t speak as she doesn’t like humans, preferring her robotic best pal OKAY (Outstandingly Knowledgeable Android Youth) that she has programmed to speak. The town’s mayor (Kirsty Stuart), who sees the teacher as a “robot fancying hippy”, has declared that all ARTIs (artificial intelligence machine) be destroyed so Ada has to re-programme OKAY to become more human so as not to lose her only friend.

Ada’s self-imposed isolation and difficulty in interacting socially holds hints of conditions that are coming to light with dramas like The A Word. Traits like the repeating back of questions rather than answering them are part of process Ada has to break to help OKAY to learn to be a socially functioning person; learning things like what sad looks like. To test OKAY’s capacity to think like a human in front of the Mayor, they do a version of The Turing Test that was devised by English mathematician Alan Turing to prove that a computer has artificial intelligence if it can mimic human responses under specific conditions.

Drummond has created a direct, immersive, thought provoking and entertaining show aimed at the people who will have to deal with a concept that is challenging, disconcerting and scary in almost equal measure but one that upcoming generations will have to address. The three strong cast give top class performances as they point up serious issues that could lie ahead with what could be described as serious levity.

Uncanny Valley, a combination of wackiness and brilliant inventiveness, is like an edition of The Moral Maze for children with the ethics of rights for robots being raised - how to deal with beings that are “the same but different”. After all, some humans are unfeeling and their capacity for change is questionable.

Drummond enthusiastically encourages interaction and gets lots of intelligent questions from the eager young beavers in the audience at whom this show is targeted. But while the concepts of sight and feeling in a robot were covered no one asked about the very basic human elements of touch, pain or love. That takes experience.

Uncanny Valley is commissioned by Edinburgh International Science Festival in partnership with imaginate.

Tuesday 29th March: 2.30pm
Wednesday 30th March: 2.30pm + 7pm
Thursday 31st March: 10.30am + 2.30pm age recommend 7+

So glad you enjoyed this Irene - I had the pleasure of meeting OKAY and think he is wonderful. Here's hoping he returns to Edinburgh soon!