Max Lewendel

Review: THE FUTURE at Battersea Arts Centre

This fun, irreverent, and brilliantly choreographed cosmic rock concert shines a comic light on the nature of AI and human consciousness.

Shamira Turner, Eugénie Pastor, Cominic Conway, and Clare Beresford in The FutureShamira Turner, Eugénie Pastor, Cominic Conway, and Clare Beresford in The Future at the Battersea Arts Centre

The Future begins with Nick Bostrom (Shamira Turner) centre stage on a small green turf surrounded by instruments and dangling LEDs. We are in the future, he tells us, and we begin our journey to investigate the creation of the first AI. He is a scientist, and so are three his colleagues who emerge on stage in turn. He brings out a small, poorly constructed box with its own green turf and announces that this is the supreme intelligence, the singularity, the first AI. Never fear, there is an air gap between it and the internet, so it can do us no harm. The ridiculousness of the cardboard and cheap LEDs perfectly completing the cheap, tatty future – the purported apex of human civilisation.

Never fear: this is not amateurism, but a skilled set design by the company and lighting design by Fraser Craig, so skilled that every flashing light poorly mimicking circuit boards, every blade of dead astro-turf serves to make us at home in this facile, analgesic laboratory. Skilled musicianship advances the story… er, rather the lecture, ably played by the cast and many effects wonderfully echo the scientists’ actions. Special mention to Clare Beresford rockin’ it out on drums. The musicianship contrasting with the set lifts the performance out of the laboratory, almost to a rock concert.

Do we learn anything new? Well, no. AI could solve all the world’s problems, or it could end civilisation as we know it. We know this. But the company are talented musicians and so committed to this exploration, so determined to fully investigate this question with us – their audience at some futuristic lecture hall – that we go along for the ride, engaged in charismatic, outlandish caricatures of four real-life scientists. Their reality is an added little piece of truth that makes the experience all the more fun, though I wish this had been clear from the beginning so it didn’t need to be announced at the end.

The cross-casting is never distracting, and refreshing to see 75% of a cast as female, and all capable of playing traditionally “manly” instruments with as much exquisite skill as they have in both acting and singing.

It’s about damned time they are given the platform they deserve.