Review: The Sensemaker, ZOO Playground, Edinburgh Fringe

At a time when the UK is experimenting with mass facial recognition technologies in the name of counter-terrorism, The Sensemaker is a poignant theatrical event. With anxieties around London becoming the capital of a potential surveillance state, along with fierce debates surrounding the violation of human rights, Elsa Couvreur’s concept is a clever one indeed. 

Her character is not named, rather, she is numbered: 3654782. A one-woman show, The Sensemaker makes use of a disembodied robotic voice to help guide the narrative. It is an Orwellian dystopia. A warren where AI has ceased to exist as the brain-child of the human race, becoming parental figures instead. Perhaps ‘parent’ is too soft a word, though. The automated tone that blares from above feel dictatorial. Every sentence ends with “Please, Thank you,” a chilling attempt to simulate courtesy, while its demands grow steadily more humiliating.

The Sensemaker also toys with the increasing presence that tech plays in one’s daily life, flavours of Facebook and Cambridge Analytica Scandal oozing into being through a gathering of Couvreur’s physical and emotional data. Told mostly through a canny use of choreography and lip-synching, there are inventive changes of pace and highly unique flashes of content. 

Forced into submission by an infernal dial tone and tracks of elevator music, Couvreur is consistently made to hold the line. Promises that her query is being registered and then redirected to the relevant department come with endless hoops to jump through. The hellfire builds inside of her, slowly. Its flames kindled by frustration. A sinister technical difficulty calls not only the limits of the human consciousness into  question, but the disadvantages of AI too. That Couvreur is responsible for every creative facet of the production is awe-inspiring.

The inclusion of nudity doesn’t feel gratuitous either. It is wholly necessary in its depiction of shame, as well as its analysis of the over-sexualisation of the female body. Couvreur’s discomfort is our discomfort. Her anger is our anger. Like her sheer tights that ladder upon redressing, The Sensemaker is delicate. But, above all, it is daring and witty to boot.

The Sensemaker played at ZOO Playground until 26 August. For more information, visit the Edinburgh Fringe website.