Writers: Piotr Mirowski and Kory Mathewson
Reviewer: Maryam Philpott
Never work with children or animals would be actors are told, but now there’s another item to add to that list – never work with robots. Piotr Mirowski and Kory Mathewson’s new improvising show Human Machine: binary 2 is about as ambitious as a comedy show can be, not only creating their entire performance from scratch based on audience suggestions on the night, but using their own artificial intelligence creations as additional performers. Oh, and they’re both based in entirely different countries during the show.
Science-humour is quite particular but has found a main stream audience through shows like The Big Bang Theory and the annual Ig Nobel Awards Show, which distributes prizes for ludicrous research and tours the UK every year. Tapping-in to this fanbase, scientists Mirowski and Mathewson have created a show that has a niche humour but manages to be endearing despite its lack of obvious jokes.
Its most notable achievement is to link the central London show fronted by Mirowski with a venue in Portland Oregon where Mathewson is performing in front of his own (unseen) live audience. This part of the set-up works well with barely a delay that helps to keep conversation moving swiftly. And despite the technical wizardry, this is first and foremost an improv show, playing at the Tristan Bates Theatre as part of ImprovFest UK, and they first attempt a scenario in which a homosexual couple meet in a bar and one of them must guess the other’s secret, while later they are a rowing team discussing tactics while on the water. All ideas suggested by the audience.
It’s slightly difficult to keep track of their personas which the performers also have trouble remembering, with Mathewson first introduced as “Myelz” but also called Kory when Mirowski (who called himself Albert) forgets they’re in character. There is a slightly chaotic tone throughout and whether this is deliberate performance or their real selves is hard to distinguish. The sketches without the robots run out of steam fairly quickly and while the performers think on their feet, each scenario gets away from them until it fizzles out.
It is a clever idea but their distance partially hinders them because improvisation relies on being able to see and respond to each other, but the positioning or screens and cameras makes it difficult for the performers to bounce off each other successfully which give the sketches a nervous quality, and a little more pre-planning on the comedy aspects would give this a firmer grounding.
Beset by technical difficulties on press night that largely prevented the UK robot from working, several of the scenes intended to bring together a human performer with AI. One scenario involved a proposal of marriage but the voice recognition software failed and gibberish came out, which happened again when the two artificial intelligence creations attempted to talk to one another. The performers covered well but they were just unlucky on the night.
Human Machine: binary 2 has some genuinely innovative ideas that utilise the idea of international scientific collaboration and use it to produce a not particularly funny but endearing 50-minute production. If the technology had worked better, then the show would certainly have been more relaxed, but improvisation relies on trust between the performers to go wherever their imaginations take them. Robots are all well and good, but the human relationship has to work as well.
Runs until 1 April 2017 | Image: Contributed