Review: Player Kings, Noel Coward Theatre - a vehicle for Ian McKellen at the expense of something richer
Review: Laughing Boy, Jermyn Street Theatre - urgent and emotional

Review: Black Swans, Omnibus Theatre - reflection on technology and what it says about humans

Black Swans featuring Trine Garrett © Tim Morrozzo
Black Swans, Omnibus Theatre, L-R  Camila França and Trine Garrett. Photo © Tim Morrozzo

In my interview with Camila França and Trine Garrett, who play sisters in Black Swans at the Omnibus Theatre, they said Christina Kettering's play felt futuristic when it came to them in 2020 years ago, but four years later, less so.

Such is the rampant advance in AI in the last couple of years that a robot that gathers medical, mood and domestic data to deliver the best care no longer seems quite so far-fetched.

The play sees two sisters arguing about who and how their elderly mother should be cared for. Neither has had a particularly close relationship with her, but the younger sister (Garrett) feels it's their moral duty and shouldn't be a burden.

Her older sister doesn't agree. She argues that others can provide much better care.

It is an argument that is perhaps motivated by a desire to live her life unencumbered by any caring responsibility, which echoes how she and her sister were raised.

However, seeing her sister struggling with caring, part-time work, family responsibilities and an absent husband, she buys her sister a robot carer to help out. They call the robot Rosie.

Black Swans is staged on a long strip of white flooring with a couple of white cube seats at either end. The audience sits on either side, and the effect on this two-hander is sometimes like watching a verbal tennis match.

It also emphasises the distance and differences between the sisters, as the physical distance isn't often broken.

This is a play that morphs in focus through its 70-minute running time. It starts as a debate about caring for the elderly, then the morals of using robots and AI in caring, but ultimately ends up being a play about how the objective and 'perfect' machine reflects on flawed, subjective and emotionally messy humanity.

And it is in the latter where it is most interesting.

The joy of liberation the younger sister feels when Rosie takes over caring duties and household chores is short-lived as she starts to ruminate on how the robot can care for her mother in a way she cannot.

These feelings aren't helped by the fact that her mother prefers Rosie. 

Does the play's denouement reflect the idea of a machine following orders in a way that conscious and morally influenced humans can't? Or is it a human way of demonstrating the flaws in robots and AI?

Black Swans takes a while to get going but finds its footing when Rosie appears and gives much to mull over, so I'm giving it ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️.

💬 Camila and Trine are also co-artistic directors of Foreign Affairs Theatre, which produced Black Swans, read/watch my interview with them here.

Black Swans, Omnibus Theatre

Written by Christina Kettering

Translated by Pauline Wick

Directed by Ria Samartzi

Cast: Camila França and Trine Garrett

Running time 70 mins without an interval

Booking until 11 May; for more tickets and information, visit the Omnibus Theatre website

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🎥 Check out my YouTube channel for more short video reviews and interviews with writers, directors and actors.