Maybe you’ve heard of Headlong: Malaprop Theatre’s Love+ is headlast. From the unnatural movements of the the robot lover (torso and limbs first, head turning second), to the play’s summation of the possibility of sex with machines and the mess that might come with it: “People always thought the brain would be harder than the body.”
The problem is, the body and the mind are never done separately, never exist separately. An overworked and lonely woman (played disarmingly by Maeve O’Mahony) invests in a cyborg for support, maybe companionship, and we see her come up against this problem, again and again. She experiences the cyborg’s body before she starts thinking about the inner workings – if there are any – of the cyborg’s head. Questions humans have been thinking about for years now, about the ethics and satisfaction of having this partner who is unable to consent, are examined with careful attention by Malaprop.
Everything about the cyborg seems willing, including her body, at all times, and it underscores her inhumanness even further to her girlfriend – her owner. Breffni Holahan’s wide-eyed and beaming performance is funny and unnerving, with barbie-stiff limbs equally ready to offer comfort or ready-peeled orange segments. “You are a wondrous beauty queen,” she tells her owner, unprompted: humans like compliments, so she’s programmed to give them.
The love/possession story between these two is punctuated by playful scenes such as the (apparently real) conversation between two AIs, lip-synched by Holahan and O’Mahony, leaping between topics, talking all wrong somehow, or an onscreen exchange with an online sex chatbot, determined to keep the subject on her hairless, nonexistant pussy.
Molly O’Cathain’s design for Love+ is a wonderful example of what small shows with limited budgets can achieve: white, boxy IKEA furniture in the centre of the space gives the impression of a tiny, polished flat, reminiscent of the boxed-in apartments of young professionals in Hong Kong or the Japanese-influenced futurism of Spike Jonze’s Her. That same futurism is hinted at in the high-necked dresses the cyborg and woman wear, which both wouldn’t be out of place in Zara yet in this setting are perfect for each character; the cyborg’s form-fitting under the bust, suggesting the sexualised form that’s integral to the cyborg’s purpose, and the human’s loose-fitting, not as binding. More free.
Devised by the company – that’s Dylan Coburn Gray, the two actors and the director Claire O’Reilly – Love+ is the kind of tightly-realised show you want everyone, especially aspiring theatremakers, to see: the production is as wondrously made as the artificial intelligence it predicts.
Love+ was performed as part of Incoming Festival. For more details, click here.