Review: Black Swans, Omnibus Theatre

Foreign Affairs present Christina Kettering’s Black Swans at the Omnibus Theatre, a cautionary tale about sisterhood as much as AI

“Rosie is not your enemy, she’s here to help”

The encroachment of artificial intelligence into our daily lives is a simple fact – from Face ID recognition, chatbots, predictive text and Spotify recommendations, so many of us use AI almost unthinkingly in all sorts of ways now. So it’s not hard to imagine that we’re not far off a time where bigger, more knowing choices about the AI we invite into our homes will become the norm. Could society ever be ready for such a tipping point?

Christina Kettering’s 2019 play Black Swans supposes such a world. A pair of adult sisters are reckoning with the realities of caring for an elderly mother whose health is in worrying decline and as the burden falls more on Young Sister whose home life ends up thoroughly disrupted by moving mum in, Older Sister presents her with a gift in Rosie, a humanoid care robot somewhere between Alexa and the T-1000, to ease the load in keeping her happy. It’s a decision that comes with major consequences.

Translated into English by Pauline Wick, the play is as much about relationships as it is the tech. We explore the often antagonistic sisterly bond here and their somewhat ambivalent connection to a parent who didn’t often show much maternal warmth. Camila França’s older sibling maintaining her carefree lifestyle now perhaps as a response to being forced to look after her sister when they were kids, Trine Garrett’s younger one attempting to do it all in a vain attempt to capture an ideal of domestic bliss.

Ria Samartzi’s direction opens out the space of the Omnibus in traverse lengthways in a highly effective manner. Alongside Amy Daniels’ subtly shifting lighting design, it permits the world of the play to slide between flashbacks to childhood, sideway shifts in dream worlds and the colder reality of right now where the pair seem doomed to be isolated from each other, even in times of growing crisis. The result is something appropriately chilly, even when it slips in a few dance moves.

The AI of it all is also deeply fascinating, the ethical considerations of yielding such personal tasks as caregiving to technology complicated by the brutally harsh truth of the difficulties of being a caregiver, particularly to a loved one. And the notion of whether advanced data-driven decision-making can ever be considered consciousness is one to keep you up at night if you pull the thread as far as it goes here – you’ll certainly think twice before ticking that ‘I consent’ button again (or will you…).

1 thought on “Review: Black Swans, Omnibus Theatre

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *