Focused on the eponymous philosophical experiment of ‘Epiphenomenal Qualia’ – informally known as Mary’s Room – Amy White’s production is a fascinating exploration of the Human. When Professors Shelley and Cavendish build ‘Adam’, their first artificially created man, they stumble upon student Mary to test the extent of his humanity, and whether such machines can possess a soul. Through their unexpected friendship, Adam begins to show flaws that align with all the naturally “broken” parts of being a human.
White’s play is an intriguing concept which infuses philosophical theories with strikingly modern debates about artificial intelligence. She utilises the characters’ names to weave together traditional and contemporary creations of man, evoking Frankenstein through ‘Mary’ and ‘Shelley’ and God’s creation in Genesis through ‘Adam’. The play explores broad questions of what it is to be human, and personal ones of what it is to be a good friend.
With such an exciting premise, the play was a little let down by its characters which, in an attempt to be complex and 3-dimensional, came across as mostly unlikeable. Professor Shelley (Nikki Palmer) was striking in her ambition and dedication, but I struggled to understand the root of her almost maniacal anger. This is not a criticism of the actors themselves, however, who all excelled in their versatile emotional range.
Luke Gyesi-Appiah was very impressive as Adam, with his perfected nuances and precise timing making him believably robotic, while equally entertaining and endearing. I was also impressed with Will Davies as Cavendish, who managed to bring some light-hearted humour into the more intense scenes of the play with his witty one-liners and genuine care for Mary. Elizabeth Brown, who played the eponymous role, proved herself as a very talented actress, managing to evoke both laughter and tears in her most moving scenes. As laid-back yet distant, caring too little and too much, Mary kept the play on its toes, and her friendship with Adam provided an unexpected look at her softer, emotional self.
My final critique of the piece would be its tendency to border on the cliché. When Cavendish opens the play to Mary by likening their creation to Ex-Machina, I-Robot and Westworld, I expected they would go on to satirise such overplayed tropes of artificial intelligence, rather than succumb to it. This unfortunately led the ending to be a little predictable, and some lines a little embarrassing. However, this by no means undermined the emotional heartbreak of the final scene, which was certainly pulled through by Brown’s moving talent.
Despite its few flaws, and Theatre With Teeth’s disappointing lack of publicity for the show, Mary’s Room shows excellent wit, intellect, and promise in its exploration of the human. I am sure the show will succeed at Edinburgh Fringe, and I wish the cast and crew the best of luck!