Review: Jack Data (The Old 505 Theatre)

Venue: Old 505 Theatre (Newtown NSW), Feb 6 – 11, 2018
Playwright: Ruth Bell
Director: Ruth Bell
Cast: Richard Cotter, Christine Greenough, Elly Hirani Clapin, Mathias Olofsson, Julian Rumandi, Amelia Tranter

Theatre review
Exasperated by their daughter’s persistent independence, Alice’s parents decide to buy her a robot. Jack is not only a sex machine with the ability to help women procreate, he is a passionate housekeeper, a slave to Alice’s every need. Ruth Bell’s Jack Data imagines a future where artificial intelligence has well and truly penetrated the inner sanctum of human existence. Predictably, the play takes a technophobic position, with the well-worn attitude of deep scepticism about radical progress, that is unfortunately under examined. Alice’s resistance of a creation that is by all accounts “the perfect man”, requires greater exposition. In today’s climate of intimacy via smartphone, Alice’s unqualified dismissal of Jack, can be regarded as too convenient. The idea that humanity and nature are necessarily and unquestionably better than anything synthetic, has long been proven to be false.

The futuristic premise of robotic lovers is a deeply appealing one. Jack Data creates a fantasy in which we meditate on the meanings of love, relationships and families, in a way that forces our rationality to escape the cliché. It helps us interrogate our very existence, through concepts as far reaching as the delusion of our anthropocentrism. We begin to wonder if we can even conceive of humans as anything other than the very supreme occupants of earth, a clearly erroneous idea that we have become so used to. It is indeed a challenging but rewarding exercise, to try and not see our place on this planet as preeminent, to look square in the face at all the damage we cause, and come to an honest judgement on this humanity that we want to only think of as sacred.

The production is rough around the edges, with performances that are only occasionally convincing. There is some troubling illogic that gets in the way, such as, the complete plot inconsistency of having robots widely available to all of the public, yet having characters act like they had never seen robots before. Actor Mathias Olofsson is however, very delightful as Jack, with fabulous physical expressions that communicate with great dynamism. He makes us see robots as superior beings, as technology invented precisely to address the many faults of our organic selves. There needs a revision to our prejudices as they pertain to the increasingly arbitrary divisions between synthetic and organic, natural and technological. For those more religiously inclined, “for in Him all things were created,” and for the rest of us, we all are one.