Tom Lyall’s Defrag takes the form of a sci-fi adventure focusing on one man’s reliance on artificial intelligence to defragment his brain. Defragmentation is the re-organisation of a computer’s files to enable greater efficiency and capacity of storage as Lyall explains at the start of his cleverly conceived show. Lyall explores the concept of how defragmentation might work if it was applied to the human brain by a computer programme, with monumental consequences.
The performance opens with Lyall’s character delivering a lecture to the audience on his experiences following a head injury and his subsequent decision to sign his mind over to a computer programme in the hope that it will ‘mitigate the chaos’. The second scene begins abruptly with Lyall alone in a room and under the complete control of a female computerised voice. He plays out his mental incarceration, dressed in pyjamas in a position of complete vulnerability whilst the computer quashes any attempts at rebellion by putting him to sleep.
The contrast in tone between these two scenes creates a disturbing and claustrophobic world where the characters gradually work through the defragmentation of his mind until completion. This allows for some well scripted exchanges as they confront each other throughout the process with hilarious parallels with the automated voices we have come to accept and despise in our daily lives.
Although the concept of man verses machine is nothing new, Lyall uses it to explore the fragility of and value of human life and experience and how we relate this to the technology that surrounds and controls us through in our daily lives.
The greatest strength in this piece is Lyall’s performance: his deadpan delivery, his dry sense of humour and his impeccable comic timing which is so convincing that it at first confuses then completely engages the audience as they journey with him to the dystopian reality that he will come to inhabit.