Fringe THEATRE REVIEW: Quintessence @Sweet Works 2

Besi Besemar May 9, 2019

Ever since Isaac Asimov wrote his series of Sci Fi books about the rise of the robots, we have feared what Artificial Intelligence (AI) might lead to.

IN her one-woman show Quintessence, Emily Carding cleverly and thoughtfully combines a view of a post-apocalyptic world with the undying power of Shakespeare’s plays.

I know it sounds a bit bizarre but my oh my how well it works. Global warming leading to famine and global war finally wipes out the human race. As the show opens, the avatar Ariel, a first generation android addresses us on the centenary of the birth of the AI generation that now inhabits the earth.

With black and white contact lenses, Emily is every inch the robot, humourless, dry, scary and infallible.

Brilliantly the show interlaces her eerie flat-voiced robotic story-telling with highly impassioned relevant passages from the Bard’s greatest plays.

There is a frightening logic about AI she is telling us. The robots literally base their whole society on Shakespeare’s view of the world. Their main raison d’etre is to re-create humanity because mankind must thrive.

Their early attempts are actually successful, but they believe the signs of adolescence – moodiness, anger etc are signs of imperfection and the failure of their experiment. Because AI rules don’t allow them to painlessly destroy the humans they have made, they cast them outside their protected bio-domes presumably to die in the wilderness, much as Prospero treated the deformed creature Caliban in The Tempest.

In their attempt to recreate humans, the robots decide they must remove those elements of the human character that led to its doom – hate, anger, the need for power. You can see the scary logic of this machine world but of course we know it will all end in tears.

It is Shakespeare’s “so potent art” that leads them in all things even when the great writer seems to contradict himself. Ariel is puzzled why his greatest tribute to love – Romeo and Juliet – only leads to hate and death. The end is predictably inevitable.

Emily Carding, directed by Dominique Gerrard gives a stunning performance as our monotone robotic guardian angel. And in the Shakespearean passages she is strong, energetic and full of emotion.

To be or not to be is a binary question which the robots can identify with – zero or 1, thrive or not thrive. But in the end the seeds of destruction are hidden in the seeds of creation.

Quintessence plays at  Sweet Werks 2 in Middle Street, Brighton as part of Brighton Fringe till May 12.

To book tickets online, click here:

Review by Brian Butler