Tuesday, November 29

Uncanny Valley – Battersea Arts Centre

Theatre has been pedestaled, historically, to create a sense of empathy within audiences. We identify with the players on stage. If the production is stirring enough, we end up following the performers’ breath patterns. But, what if the actor on stage is a robot? Would we still feel empathy? Would we still be able to release emotions or scramble for answers to explain our reality? Rimini Protokoll’s Uncanny Valley subverts the position of theatre and human existence by casting a lifelike animatronic model of Thomas Melle, the writer of The World at My Back. Conceived, written, and directed by Stefan Kaegi, Rimini Protocoll once again uses a novel and disruptive form to raise questions on human conditioning and its dependency on machines- “Are we human by our randomness?” Or are we just like machines functioning repetitively, in cyclical patterns?

A humanoid replica of Melle dressed in jumper and trousers, sitting with one leg crossed, alongside a laptop, gradually breaks out of its deathlike stillness and moves its arms and head to the sound of metallophone and glass chimes. With ‘umms’ and ‘ahems’, it pretends to add humaneness to its character, seemingly mocking at its audience’s imperfections. Through the course of the play, a series of visual projections of humans including the real Melle, add to the list of performers.

As a piece of documentary theatre, the narrative includes a series of topics- Mel’s childhood and his experiences of bipolar disorder, his aspiration of creating a play on Alan Turing that couldn’t be achieved due to a manic episode, the documentation of Mel’s journey of being recreated as a robot and a final confrontation between the real and the artificial, once again via machines. The varied reflections are stitched together successfully invoking within spectators, the uncanniness felt on engaging with an inanimate object resembling humanness that Masahiro Mori talks about in the play.

The form of the play did exactly what it intended to do. As I left the theatre, I was filled with an uneasy eeriness struggling to form questions and find answers, define structure and assign meaning, label what I felt and what I perceived, dazed between reality and theatre and sort of fearing the unknown, and the uncertain future of humanity.

Uncanny Valley plays until 26th February and is showing as sold out! Visit https://bac.org.uk/whats-on/uncanny-valley/ for returns.

Reviewer: Khushboo Shah

Reviewed: 23rd February 2022

North West End UK Rating: ★★★★