As the ultimate experiment of the Turing Test, which examines whether a machine can exhibit behaviour indistinguishable from a human, The Test takes the concept of Artificial Intelligence to another level. Ian Dixon Potter’s thought-provoking script sees computer scientist Dora (Natasha Killam) create consciousness and watch as the resultant ‘Mother’ (Zara Banks) takes it upon itself to intercede in the general state of human affairs. This is a well-researched, philosophical play with thought-provoking consequences.
Computer scientist Dora (Killam) is the lynchpin in the action and thankfully also the strongest performer. Killam is blunt and to the point, with confident delivery that comes from an intrinsic knowledge of the subject matter. Non-verbal reactions are at times too pronounced and superficial, but this runs true for the entirety of the cast; Dixon Potter’s writing is stronger than his direction. The Test puts the script centre stage as the medium through which the characters can best flex their creative muscles.
Accompanying Dora on her quest is computer hacker Josh (Duncan Mason), the brute force behind her controversial creation. The opening discussion between the two resembles the ramblings of a mad scientist, albeit updated with modern technology – let’s hijack the internet to produce the requisite computing power for the algorithms to function. But while far-fetched, it’s just on the edges of possibility, and that’s what makes Dixon Potter’s concept so engaging. The Test fast descends into a dystopian, semi-apocalyptic sci-fi – the resistance rising up to combat the evil – but both the premise and set-up are plausible and intriguing. This is a show where scientific discovery clashes with philosophical ethics.
As Josh and The Professor respectively, Mason and Banks give sufficient supporting performances but with slips in dialogue and stalling conversations. When voicing Mother, Banks has a quality that draws the audience in more, filled with subtle arrogance despite the inability of the consciousness to exhibit such an emotion. There is something addictive about the purity of Mother – its logic is unspoilt by the genetic mutations that caused humans to form emotional attachments. It may feel cold but, despite falling under the intentionally blue lighting of Janet A Cantrill-Smith’s design, there is something reassuring in the removal of everything irrational in the human character. Dixon Potter rationalises away political and economic systems of existence, religion and even morality – all are man-made constructs designed ultimately to subjugate and control, the betterment of individuals rather than the evolutionary imperative of the species as a whole. At least that is where The Test ends, a hostile takeover with Dora in favour and others against – this conclusion falls foul of a blockbuster movie plot twist more so than Dixon Potter’s original intellectual debate.
The Test unpicks incredibly complicated topics – free will and consciousness – without ever feeling stuck in scientific reasoning. Dixon Potter writes a narrative that asks questions from its audience and could easily expand into a longer production with further subplots running off. There is potential in the idea here which, with some stronger directorial realisation, will provide the platform that the The Test’s script merits.
Writer/ Director: Ian Dixon Potter
Producer: Golden Age Theatre Company
Design: Janet A Cantrill-Smith (lighting & sound)
Cast: Natasha Killam; Duncan Mason; Zara Banks
The Test plays White BearTheatre until 30 September 2017. For more information or to book tickets, please visit the website.