LOVE+ (Malaprop Theatre Company)
Theatre Republic, The Block
September 10 – 14
Generally speaking, the Irish do great theatre; Brisbane Festival audiences have seen this in recent experiences of the Dead Centre sort. Continuing in the guise, the award-winning Dublin-based Malaprop Theatre Company, this year brings us “LOVE+”, a two-hander about the future inevitability of human/robot relationships and what it’ll be like when machines love us back.
The story tells of a lonely, hardworking woman (Maeve O’Mahony) who invests in a cyborg for day-to-day assistance. Before long their relationship develops beyond companionship, which leads the woman to be troubled by the cyborg’s inability to experience anything at a visceral level. (As we are told in the show’s initial scene, robots must obey orders given by humans and are restricted by the laws of not harming a human being or allowing them to come to harm… not ever, even a little bit).
The conflict (as much as one can have conflict without disagreement) caused by the robot’s inflexible virtues leads to touch on themes of human nature, consciousness, consent and the need for authenticity in emotional experiences. Morally complex as they might be, these themes are not new (think 2013’s Spike Jonze movie “Her” and Ian McEwan’s 2019 novel “Machines Like Me”). What makes “Love+” interesting is its realisation of the familiar tropes in a way that avoids cliché.
Caoimhe Coburn Gray is brilliant as the wide-eyed cyborg, sharply controlled in her every static movement and her unassuming delivery of in-unison dialogue with soundtrack sections is a highlight in its contrast to O’Mahony’s required over-animation. Indeed, her programed ‘characterisation’ of a non-human character is quite compelling to watch and together the two generate some tantalising, tender moments of intimacy between their characters.
“LOVE+” is smart and thoughtful theatre that offers much to consider about the ways technology is reprograming our romantic lives. With its coarse language and sexual references, however, it may not be to every audience member’s tastes.