Monday, November 28

I Am Not A Robot – King’s Arms, Salford

The potential dangers to humanity of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and robots have been the meat and drink of numerous science fiction movies for decades. On TV the BBC sci-fi show, Doctor Who, back in the 60s, created the Cybermen, monsters who had once been human but had turned themselves into killing machines devoid of emotion.

I Am Not a Robot explores this theme, cleverly grounding it with northern humour, whilst adding a touch of slapstick and a healthy dash of melodrama. The sparky script is punchy and witty which rattles along at a wonderful pace until the third act.

It starts off in the bedroom of a luxury hotel somewhere overseas in the near future. Beth has won a luxury stay via Instagram and has invited her best friend, ambitious politician Karina, to share it with her. Karina is opposed to government plans to allow AI to run the Social Security system.

Straight away Beth is sharing her experience on Instagram much to her mates annoyance. Being a politician she is aware of her image and wants to control it. Karina is a working class MP from a council estate who has fought hard to get where she is and she isn’t going to let the press bring her down.

Beth just wants to have a good time; she has got hold of some drugs which she offers to her friend. The highly strung Karina does not want to partake, and a nice conflict develops between them based on their priorities, Karina’s being ambition and fear her constituents would find out. Beth is a bit lost, she lacks the direction of the MP for Swinton West, and just wants to enjoy herself and blank it all out.

She notices that on offer to luxury guests are sex bots. Christopher turns up offering his services and from then on mayhem ensues.  The energy reminded me of 80s knockabout comedies like The Young Ones as the plot turned darker and the action manic.

I referenced Doctor Who earlier and Stacey Coleman as Karina reminded me of the current doctor, Jodie Whittaker, with the intensity of her performance. Indeed, I could have been watching an episode of the long running sci-fi show as she passionately argued against AI and for the human spirit.

The writer of the piece Victoria Tunnah was funny and moving as Beth, a seemingly shallow young woman obsessed by social media, just out for a good time. That is until she reveals her anger about the state of the nation which exposed a deeper intelligence and heartfelt passion hidden underneath.

Unfortunately, as indicated earlier the last act suffered as all the energy that had made the play so engaging and compelling disappeared as we were introduced to Karina’s Margaret Thatcher adoring spin doctor, Cynthia. It seems odd that Karina, given what we learn of her politics throughout the play, would choose someone allied to Mrs T as her public relations guru.

The narrative stuttered as the dialogue drifted into agit-prop monologues and arguments about the legacy of Margaret Thatcher. This was a shame as the play had been so engaging, lively and interesting until this point.

Prue Griffiths was suitably haughty as the Iron Lady adoring Cynthia. Michael Sinclair played Christopher and Cynthia’s assistant Kender. Particularly memorable was his dance and he can certainly rotate his hips.

This was an engaging, enjoyable and interesting play full of passion and ideas. I look forward to seeing more of Victoria Tunnah’s work in the future.

The play continues at the King’s Arms until the 17th June.

Reviewer: Adam Williams

Reviewed: 14th June 2022

North West End UK Rating: ★★★★