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Review: The Future (Battersea Arts Centre)

Little Bulb returns to Battersea Arts Centre

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
The Future
© Adam Trigg

On a normal day artificial intelligence mightn't the most appetising topic for a theatre production – with the subject either done to death by big budget flashy franchises or bogged down in stuffy theoretical reasoning and hypothetical guessing. It can end up just being a bit tedious.

But then again Little Bulb, known for crowd pleasing favourite classics like gypsy jazz-infused Orpheus, isn't your normal theatre company. Back at familiar stomping ground Battersea Arts Centre, the company has moved firmly out of the analogue and into the digital space with new show The Future – a deep-dive headfirst into the world of AI.

The result is a bonkers, TED Talk-esque, 60 minute musical extravaganza delivered by four performers, three in silver-tipped hats and one wearing a green snake scale-patterned dress. The plot is abstract at best – the four of them exist in some 'institute of the future' and, using a ton of direct address, are trying to explain to us, the audience, both the benefits and the grave dangers of artificial intelligence.

There are some savvy points in the play and the company really has done its homework, with the final conclusion being particularly illuminating. It is also a bit terrifying to think that self-induced human extinction may not be that far off when AI reaches the ominously sounding singularity – the point at which it becomes better at creating itself than we are. Some are saying this might even happen by 2050.

The problem is that all the relentless rumination feels massively unstructured, more like a perambulation than a performance. The show leaps from topic to topic faster than a drunk undergrad in a pub, offering rebuttals and counter points before ideas have really had a chance to sink in. There is so much of interest here that, if anything, the show could have benefited from an extra 30 minutes or so.

With music sounding as though it is composed by someone mashing up Muse and Pink Floyd while five hours into an acid trip, Little Bulb really knows how to put the AI into plainchant, the synth into synthesised reality. It's an odd mix and not always convincing, but certainly zhooshes up the experience.

Something of a mess, but for the most part a brilliantly absurd, earnestly didactic one.