I didn’t really know much about Ada Lovelace, but probably should have. Born in 1815, she wrote the first ever program (or algorithm) for a computer. Devised by Edinburgh University Theatre Company using Ada’s own word’s taken from letters, diaries and scientific notes, Ada tells this woman’s story. We follow Ada through her childhood with tempestuous parents, Lord and Lady Byron, see her growing passion for maths, science and logic, her marriage, her work and eventual death at just 36.
Much of the show focuses on Ada’s relationship with mathematician, inventor and engineer Charles Babbage. Considered the ‘father of the computer’ Babbage is generally credited as the first person to come up with an idea for a programmable computer. It was in notes on his and others papers that Ada documented the very first algorithm intended to be carried out by a general purpose computer. At the center of the play is Ada’s working relationship with Baggage, much tension stemming from her place as a women, in what was then a very male world. Interestingly, Ada describes her approach as ‘poetical science’ and the relationship between science, logic and art is interestingly explored.
If, like I was, you are a bit hazy on algorithms, computer programs and the like, do not fear, for the cast break from the performance to explain some of the finer details to us. Although the episodes have great clarity and while in some ways are effective and certainly informative, the halt in the drama can be a little dry and classroom like.
Ada employs an impressive array of dance, physical movement and other theatrical forms to tell the tale of Ada’s life. One key technique is frequent uses beautifully shot film, which forms an integral part of the storytelling.
Ada’s is a great story, and while strong performances from this cast of six suggest a lot of potentially, occasionally clarity and poignancy is lost in the fog of symbolic movement.
Ada is playing at Bedlam Theater form 13-18, 20-25, 27-30 August as part of the Edinburgh Fringe. For more information see the festival website.