Review of The Uncanny Valley by Superbolt Theatre

superboltThe Uncanny Valley, for those who don’t know, is a concept by which a person can become unsettled when artificiality is so closely reflected in movement and in aesthetics that it seems human. The idea is that empathy is produced by the human subject to a point – past this there is an aversion to the object it views when it almost becomes indistinguishable.

This play deals with the story of a human, a lonely meteorologist Wilson, forming an attachment with a robot called Pheobe. He lost his parents to a fatal thunderstorm and since then, his desire stems from an urge to protect people from bouts of bad weather. However, when he finds Pheobe, their journey with each other is kindled by just that; the storm awakens her circuits and their partnership begins.

But this is no Stepford Wives’ tale. Pheobe has her own agenda as she explores the flat and Wilson (and has a strange penchant for Kettle Chips). We see her development throughout the play as she gradually becomes more “human” to the point where she establishes a romantic connection with him. However, their relationship is discovered, in a world where the human/robot relationship is virtually unheard of.

But where the real Uncanny Valley is engaged is through the physicality of the theatre and the superb acting of all the cast. The story is being recounted to us through “robot” bodies, who take the role of human, switching between the two seamlessly but both can be distinguished. The idea of the oscillating dynamic purported by Julia Walker (I’ve mentioned it before in my review of Override) comes into play – we switch between actor and character, between world and stage. This heightened consciousness reminds us of where we are and we are continuously sucked back into the action. This is even clearer in The Uncanny Valley as we go from actor/character/human/robot. We were also led into the space by the company, humans acting as robots, so that the theme is clear from the very start.

It’s a sweet but poignant tale with many laugh out loud moments. A highlight in particular is how the “robots” stage Wilson’s early life through sock puppetry, adding another element of this Uncanny Valley/Oscillating dynamic through the anthropomorphism of the sock puppetry. It makes me think that there’s not much difference between the two devices and that it can really make its mark on Science Fiction Theatre.

There is minimal staging throughout. Sound effects are made by the actors themselves with a microphone; there are simply tables and chairs for what seems like a truly whimsical experience. Without spoiling too much, there are also the themes of legacy, communication and trust at work. It’s a truly endearing and wonderful production.

You can see Superbolt and the work they do here. They have toured the Uncanny Valley in Norway, Poland and the UK. They are performing next in April at the Camden People’s Theatre, London.

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