Friday, July 05, 2019

Assembly Required – holding a robot mirror up to bad yet normal human behaviour (Headrush Ireland at Lyric Theatre until 6 July)

Assembly Required is the third new play from Headrush, Ireland, a creative collective formed in late 2017 by recent graduates from Queen’s University. They’re back with another psychological thriller, this time a Black Mirror-lite piece examining the dangers of artificial intelligence.

Mia believes that her apartment is haunted. But it turns out that she has more to fear from the ghosts her commitment-phobic boyfriend carries around and the new female automaton she has ordered to keep her company since he won’t accept her invitation to move in.

Debra Hill’s brilliantly contrasts Ali’s movements and speech patterns with the two human characters, walking around with her arms still and making ninety degree turns as she moves about the schematic floor-plan of the apartment blurting out overly-bubbly speech while she sizes up her new owner. It’s really well observed and disciplined, making her later transformation all the more powerful.

Fresh off the other Lyric stage from Pirates of Penzance on Sunday evening, Ciara Mackey proves that she can apply her acting talent to a lot more than musical theatre as she portrays Mia, a broken soul, clinging on to the still hopeful embers of love while spiralling down into desperate patterns of destructive behaviour. All the while dressed in silky pyjamas and dressing gowns, and holding down some kind of never-described part time job.

Her boyfriend Rob is tall and strong. Elliot Lloyd lets a hint of control and untrustworthiness linger in the air and fester as the tension builds up and dependency deepens.

Artificial intelligence is an ambitious topic to tackle, and there’s a definite maturity about the ethical issues that are drawn out. There’s a sense that the play is also trying to be about the nature of love and lust – an apple with a bite out of it sits symbolically on the glass coffee table in the trendily-furnished flat – but that theme is eventually drowned out by the strong incoming tide of Ali “trying to be as human as I can” and learning too many bad habits from her human masters.

There’s a lovely moment as sound designer Katie Richardson places the song Animals alongside another night of senseless drinking by the couple who don’t live together but seem to spend every night falling asleep and every morning waking up separately strewn across Mia’s flat. The side-on lighting also helps paint the early morning and late-night scenes.

Normally exhausting to watch, this latest Headrush production swings to the opposite extreme with a one act play that is stretched over 90 minutes. Jonathan M Daley’s script is initially brimming with ideas and some great early laughs about cutlery and mimicking human behaviour, while Conal Clapper’s direction includes some nice moments that catch the eye of the audience, and well-executed mirroring by Ali/Rob of Mia/Ali’s earlier actions. But the somewhat flabby play would benefit from being pulled much tighter with some dramaturgical advice and shorter scene changes. Having just one ending rather than the three potential final scenes in the prolonged conclusion would also prevent the somewhat-signposted twist being wrung dry.

Headrush remain an exciting new theatre company to watch, writing and producing their own new work as they build up experience and work with a widening range of talented actors and creatives.

Assembly Required runs in the Lyric Theatre’s Naughton Studio until Saturday 6 July.

Photo credit: Headrush Ireland social media

No comments: