The topic of transhumanism is one that has become increasingly popular with new writers in the last few years. With more and more aspects of our daily lives becoming digitised, and lockdown measures forcing us to forge deeper relationships with our social media circles than ever before, many of us are feeling less and less connected with the world around us. Transhuman by Ian Dixon Potter attempts to reason with this as he asks whether our humanity and our physical mortality are ultimately the same thing.
Taking the form of a 35 minute monologue, Transhuman follows a nameless protagonist as they recite details of their transition from inhabiting a frail body to existing as an uploaded consciousness in the cloud. Played by Thomasin Lockwood, the audience are walked step-by-step through every stage of their transition, from the initial implants which allowed the still living body to control electrical gadgets and access the internet telepathically, to eventually leaving their physical form behind and living entirely in the digital realm.
Lockwood does an excellent job of finding the right balance between personal and uncanny; from her manner of speech that seems far too old fashioned for someone so young, to her poised head movements and piercing gaze, it’s entirely believable that this person before us is something supernatural. At first we assume that the body that the Transhuman consciousness is speaking through is some kind of cyborg, but as the Transhuman eventually yearns to experience physical reality again, it is revealed to be something much more uncomfortable.
Dixon Potter’s script certainly makes excellent use of irony, as well as a clear level of thought into how a world where the kind of all encompassing digital space described here would become another extension of capitalism. The dark conclusion of Transhuman is deliciously ironic, yet fittingly bleak, in that the protagonist’s quest to transcend and then return to a state of ‘humanity’ ultimately leads them to rob somebody else of theirs. Perhaps our humanity is our capacity for empathy, or perhaps it is our ability to feel physical sensations, our ability to actively experience things rather than passively. Dixon Potter’s script explores all of these possibilities in a way that is thoughtful and intelligently articulated.
However, I do have to wonder whether Transhuman would work better in a format other than theatre. While Lockwood is engaging as a performer, there’s only so long an audience can listen to a singular character recounting events with no action or movement until eventually their minds will wander. The script for Transhuman could easily work as a short story, and it felt more like I was watching a piece of spoken word than digital theatre. Granted, with the difficulties presented by COVID-19, I understand that it’s difficult for recorded pieces to feel close to a live event, but Transhuman is so still and so prose-like that, ironically, it lacked the ephemerality and liveness that theatre has.
Transhuman is a certainly an intelligently written piece which manages to walk the line of science fiction and philosophy in a way that reminded me a lot of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. It explores the concept of humanity thoroughly, with a hefty dose of sci-fi curiosity thrown in.
Transhuman is available to stream for free on the Golden Age Theatre Company’s YouTube channel.