“If you don’t rock the boat, you won’t drown” is the line that perfectly encapsulates artificially intelligent operating system Liberty 6.6.5, otherwise known as Bertie. Played by writer Jack Robson – if Fortnum & Mason were to develop and sell something as horribly uncultured as AI, it would look like Bertie. Dressed in a smart suit and tie with old-fashioned braces, he’s quintessentially British, in look, manner and attitude. He’s happy to be in his little box, or ‘pod’ in the show’s technological terminology. That is until Vita (Christine Prouty) comes along and turns his little pod upside down.
Robson’s play unfortunately requires us to watch with the belief that AI will at some point be gaining consciousness. If you can’t manage this and are massively horrible like me you’ll spend most of the hour thinking “oh who cares, just turn them off!” That’s not to say, however, that I Woke Up Feeling Electric isn’t enjoyable. From the introduction of Vita (what I can only assume is some sort of add-on software), the show really begins. Prouty breezes in like a gust of fresh air, dressed all in white. She’s an all-American, yoga doing, deep-breathing deep-thinker. Very LA. She shakes the cobwebs off of Bertie, and they bicker back and forth about life, freedom and their ability (or inability) to exercise free will. You know, just regular AI stuff.
Detail added by Robson and director Jacopo Panizza helps to tie the piece together, including set design that makes the little square room above the Hope and Anchor look as much like a giant (or regular? Are the AI miniature?) computer chip as possible. Costume is well thought-out and represents each of the characters well, with Vita in an Apple-inspired all white ensemble contrasting Bertie’s gentlemanly attire. Clever little tricks and props show the thought has gone into production, including a nifty manoeuvre in which Vita literally yanks Bertie out of his brogues. I spent ten minutes trying to work this out before realising his shoes are probably just glued to the floor.
Robson’s characters are well developed and well realised, but what is lacking for me is their actual story. Watching them both is enjoyable, especially together, arguing and flinging witty remarks back and forth, but it unfortunately doesn’t seem to come to much. What begins as a promising set-up descends into a bit of a dramatic back and forth, muddied by confusing and undeveloped technological info that is either ill thought out or not sufficiently explained. With a sharper plot with a more refined end, the brilliant characters will have a better place to flesh out their ideas.
I Woke Up Feeling Electric is playing The Hope Theatre until 22 February. For more information and tickets, visit The Hope Theatre website.