Love+ by emerging Irish theatre company Malaprop asks how emotionally intelligent artificial intelligence can really be. Described on the flyer as ‘a one-woman two-hander’, Love+ explores a relationship between Woman (Cate Russell) and Bot (Breffni Holahan). Despite the unconventionality of their relationship, there is nothing gimmicky about this show. The script and performances are precise and compelling, Russell brimming with hope for a fulfilling relationship and conscious she has failed in falling in love with someone, something she can’t introduce to her parents or friends, and Holahan blank faced and placid as a robot who is programmed not to experience any negative feelings. Molly O’Cathain’s set design is stark and effective. Woman inhabits a cuboid white space. The only note of colour is a glass vase of tangerines. Bot, too, is dressed in white.
Director Claire O’Reilly tackles the deep philosophical questions the piece brings up with a light touch. There are some hilarious moments, such as when a chat with an online sex bot is projected onto the screen. It works on probalistic conversational modelling, which leads to some disturbingly explicit responses to Malaprop’s attempts to make conversation.
Love+ asks pertinent questions for our technological age. Computers know so much about us – Bot is programmed to recommend porn videos Woman might like based on her Google searches – but this information sharing is not intimacy. In her relationship with Bot, Woman finds having your physical needs met is not the same as being fulfilled. There needs to be mutual vulnerability, mutual pain, mutual pleasure for a relationship to work. Bot is programmed to serve Woman’s needs – she chillingly tells Woman, ‘If you’re OK, then everything is OK’ – but such a one-sided relationship seems impossible to sustain without guilt, heart ache and loneliness. Ultimately Love+ celebrates human relationships with all their imperfections and flaws. I don’t think robots will be replacing people in this department any time soon.
Love+ is playing at Summerhall, Edinburgh, in repertory with Malaprop’s other play, Black Catfish Musketeer. Book here.