In 1950 when Alan Turing asked the question of whether machines can think, would he have fathomed a future where machines can self-modify, rebel against humans, and form their own species?
That’s the dramatic line of thinking SAYarts presents in its one-hour absurdist comedy, Only Human. As though straight out of Westworld, you are transported to a possible future where everything you may have pondered about artificial intelligence is answered and exaggerated.
Robots have developed autonomy and free will. The uBot, with its unparalleled intelligence and infinite power, auto-updates all robots connected to the one network, and an army of machines rise up in the quest to bring in a new dawn. They have their own solution to the chaos humans have created. The real question is, what will happen when humans and artificial intelligence cannot co-exist, and one species must take over the other?
The world erupts into conflict, where machines are the new masters and “mushy, useless” humans become obsolete. Gang wars ensue. Smart technology, from TVs to microwaves, even robot vacuums, turn on their obnoxious owners. But somewhere, interspersed with all this, is a love story, and an unlikely hero.
Written by Sophia Simmons, and directed by Claire Glenn, Only Human manages to balance a bleak, dystopian story through such well-timed comedy, and clever audiovisuals and props, that in spite of all the absurdity, the premise seems entirely believable. First impressions begin with the dark stage lit with blue LED lights and a fluorescent grid floor. Like walking into a simplified Blade Runner-esque scene, the audience take their seats facing actors David Lawton and Jonah Stewart playing the respective roles of uBot and Creator. Standing still with their eyes closed, they are already in character.
The anticipation was palpable from the get-go. The exceptionally talented cast carry the well-crafted script with finesse. The most high-pressure, dramatic scenes felt natural owing to incredible dialogue and almost-seamless delivery by the young actors. Despite the large cast, each of them held their own, but special mention must be given to Lawton as the angry uBot overlord. His early vexed rants set the bar for the rest of the show.
Ethan Miotti’s performance as the pompous human taking his tech gadgets for granted, only to have them turn against him, got the crowd laughing even before all the uproarious screaming began. Sam McKenna as the Roomba robot vacuum was also exceptional, delivering tongue-tying dialogue with ease in a suitably over-the-top theatrical manner. In contrast, Luke Furlan as a harmless, reflective iBot – portrayed with blank stares and a perfect show of naivety to Emma Gregory’s fine performance as an irate human girl – made their growing love story all the more endearing.
Adding to the high-calibre of acting is the exemplary use of original animation and digital design by Stu Nankivell, as well as sound and lighting designed by Adam Ritchie and Anthony Kelly respectively. All of which shocked and delighted the audience by carrying the tone of the scenes even further.
Only Human is truly a phenomenal surrealist show that will get your brain thinking not only about the benefits and dilemmas of artificial intelligence and technology, and their growing representation in our world, but also more importantly, how we as humans see ourselves and our responsibility in an increasingly chaotic world. The show delves into what makes us human, what constitutes our humanity, and ultimately the meaning of our existence. Are we masters of our destinies? Or are human greed and fear our true doom?
True, these are deep, burgeoning questions no one holds a verifiable answer to, but with a hilariously-scripted story, a wonderfully theatrical cast, and of course, kitsch robotic dance moves, there’s at least one thing you can be sure of. That despite grappling with age-old dilemmas, there will be no shortage of laughter.
Reviewed performance: 26 February 2020