An Unexpected Electric Nativity, Artificial Intelligence, C Royale, Cullum Ball, Edinburgh Fringe, Ella Dufton, Harry Elletson, Jared More, Katie Smith, Robots, Sophie Shepherd, Technology, Theatre Review, York DramaSoc
[The following contains spoilers.]
With the impending refurb of Edinburgh’s glittering India Buildings, C Nova is not a fixture at this year’s Fringe and C have hopped around the Monopoly board to snap up the Royal Society of Edinburgh. It is a brave gambit but a tad optimistic at this stage. Along with the Assembly Rooms and the New Town Theatre, C Royale adds to a growing colony of theatre venues on George Street, though you have the definite sense that this high-class shopping and nightclub precinct will only ever tolerate the mess of the Fringe. C Royale lacks the glamour of its Casino namesake. There is a bar but little seating, so it is not conducive to pre and after theatre drinks. The room in which I saw York DramaSoc’s “An Unexpected Electric Nativity” had no tiered seating, which rather lets down a play that has plenty of enjoyable things for you to see in its gift.
We spend a night behind the scenes at a robot research facility. Tomorrow, two humanoid robots (Sophie Shepherd and Harry Elletson) will be tested for the first time. Yet magically, they come alive when unattended and begin to find their feet through a long and achingly suspenseful mime. Performers in the wings deftly employ various household items to produce sound effects. At one point, the suspense is lifted when they all break randomly into song.
It is tremendous fun to watch. The robots are basically gigantic toddlers and they stomp about with the same mixture of clumsiness and intense concentration. I was strangely reminded of the lines by Philip Larkin:
Lambs that learn to walk in snow
When their bleating clouds the air
Meet a vast unwelcome, know
Nothing but a sunless glare.
These robots might be as joyous as lambs, but there is, of course, no indication that they possess consciousness (incidentally, lambs don’t either). One of them looks a bit sad when their exasperated inventor (Cullum Ball) finds them and switches them back off again. They could, however, just be programmed to look like this. The writer Jared More never unlocks the door onto that treasure-room of sci-fi scenarios in which robots achieve awareness and their rights conflict with those of humans. “An Unexpected Electric Nativity” thus maintains its innocence, in both style and theme.
It is even teasing us somewhat. Just imagine what this play would be like if it was twenty hours long and we witnessed the life-stories of these robots, the production seems to smile coquettishly at us.