By Jen McGregor
A fun but flimsy tale from Superbolt Theatre, Uncanny Valley tells the story of Wilson Grey, the first man to have a romantic relationship with a robot. Asimov’s fingerprints are all over the plot, but the play never delves into the kind of personal, emotional and ethical dilemmas Asimov explored in his stories about artificial intelligence.
The story is paper thin. Wilson’s parents are killed by a lightning strike which prompts him to dedicate his life to meteorology, and later a lightning strike animates Phoebe, the robot “friend” with whom he falls in love. Their relationship is sweet and chaste, but they are forced to keep it within the confines of Wilson’s home since the world will not understand their bond.
The fact that Phoebe initiates the relationship by kissing Wilson seems strange. She has only been functioning for a very short time and there’s nothing to indicate where she gets the idea. She is a fairly standard robot, therefore presumably not subject to the same hormonal impulses as humans, but she has had no exposure to any outside influences except her programming – was someone programming robots to experience attraction? That might have been an interesting avenue to explore, but the possible complexities are bypassed in favour of a pretty typical robot story.
Superbolt Theatre gets away with it, though. Even if the plot is not strong, the dialogue is sparky and entertaining, and the cast delivers it with energy and humour. They create a wonderful range of futuristic noises using only a megaphone, and they all have sufficient charm and presence to distract from the lack of depth or nuance in their characters. This might not be a mind-blowing piece of theatre, but it’s an enjoyable hour with a cool retrofuturistic aesthetic. Definitely one for the whole family.
Uncanny Valley runs at Underbelly Bristo Square until 25 August (not 12th) at 12.25. Running time one hour and ten minutes.