Room Service - Review
When Max checks into a hotel room on a business trip he finds Zahra there, which I’ll underplay by calling her an advanced Siri in human form. She is an AI system who does “anything we can do to enhance your visit”. Through use of data she know what he needs before he knows, such as when he’ll be hungry, help determine potential health issues and even discusses his genealogy. But when he makes a mistake that could impact his life Zahra takes ever more drastic steps to help him.
Knowing this was about AI I’ll admit I entered with some trepidation as plays with this theme have been known to go horribly wrong. I needn’t have worried, everything about this play works. This is a deeply intelligent play which is both disturbing and chilling. It raises multiple questions around the ethics of data use, data sharing, what we willingly choose to share and what we unwittingly allow to be shared. This comes together with the question of what control we allow computers to have on our lives and the ethics of how they can use the data they hold on us and others.
On entering the theatre you are greeted by the creepy looking Zahra played to perfection by Emma Stannard who never slips from the AI form (she has an incredible vacant state). Echoing the themes of the show we somehow warm to her through the performance (although it’s weirdly disconcerting when she breaks into a smile for the curtain call).
She is the perfect foil to the slightly hapless Max who comes to accept the help he’s given. Andrew Mullan is wonderful in the role bringing out the nuances of the human character in sharp contrast to the AI.
The script is intelligent, probing the issues and challenging our current use of technology. It’s humorous with sharp dialogue and a well constructed story. This is well directed by Micha Mirto in the limited space, expertly contrasting human emotion with logic. The action all takes place in just the hotel room with a well thought out set. The only minor criticism would be that the movement between scenes (being movement between times of day) feel too long, especially given there is no set change. However they do address this in one change showing Zahra recharging.
This was a captivating performance which raises questions that you’ll be discussing long after you’ve left the theatre. It makes you think and challenges you. This is a 5 Laura Michelle-Kelly star show. You can get tickets until Sept 7th here: https://www.breadandrosestheatre.co.uk/whats-on.html#event=31127311