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The Test review at the White Bear Theatre, London – ‘an undercooked thriller’

Natasha Killam in The Test at White Bear Theatre, London Natasha Killam in The Test at White Bear Theatre, London

Ian Dixon Potter’s The Test tells the story of Dora (Natasha Killam), a computer scientist who succeeds in creating an entirely new Turing Test-passing artificial consciousness.

There’s a really cool idea at the heart of this play: a modern-day Frankenstein figure who doesn’t cobble corpses together but aims to create a bodiless artificial intelligence and, just like her grave-robbing predecessor, is ultimately outmatched by her creation. But it needs more than an hour to explore the implications thrown up in the process: everything from democracy to religion to capitalism gets a mention. There’s a lot of ground covered but none of it in depth, or with much subtlety.

The characters suffer too, falling all too often into Hollywood cliche: Dora is socially inept, blunt, arrogant, and sweepingly on the side of “progress” while the Professor (Zara Banks) is older, “reactionary” and, that old cinematic favourite, a scientist with a faith. Dora is joined by Josh (Duncan Mason), a hacker fresh out of a stint inside, who also has to ask a lot of questions to keep the exposition ticking along.

Despite a sparky performance from Killan that holds things together, without the necessary time characters become mouth-pieces for the views they espouse. Unfortunately, the only clue we are given to Dora’s psychology is that she doesn’t have children, negating the good work of putting two female scientists onstage.

Potter, who also directs, stages things deftly enough, but there’s just not enough depth to get invested in what’s going on.

 

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Verdict
Artificial intelligence thriller that feels undercooked despite a promising premise
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