Theatre review: Interference, City Park, Glasgow

IN THIS second decade of the 21st century, the edges of our humanity are beginning to blur. Scientists call it the Uncanny Valley, the unsettling area where the human and the artificial become hard to distinguish; and the whole purpose of the National Theatre of Scotland’s new trilogy, commissioned and directed by Cora Bissett, and presented on two stages in a wide open office floor at City Park, is to lead us into that valley, and to invite us to explore some of its most troubling places.

Maureen Beattie, Shyvonne Ahmmad, Moyo Akande and Nicholas Ralph are outstanding in Interference, a trilogy of new plays by Morna Pearson, Hannah Khalil, and Vlad Butucea, directed by Cora Bissett. Picture: John Devlin

Interference, City Park, Glasgow ****

So in Morna Pearson’s Darklands, we find Brie and Logan occupying neighbouring glass pods in a mid-21st-century “smart city” owned by a giant corporation, which supervises their every move through the voice of a Big Sister figure called Moira. Brie and Logan, a briskly modern-Doric young couple, want to have a baby; but when Brie fails to get pregnant, the corporation offers a different solution.

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The point of the play – beautifully performed by Nicholas Ralph and Shyvonne Ahmmad, with Maureen Beattie as Moira – is not so much the detail of their journey to parenthood, as their absolute lack of control over every aspect of their lives; and the same sense of helplessness pervades Hannah Khalil’s fine play Metaverse, in which a woman scientist is recruited by the powerful company in charge of a post-climate-collapse world to work on a project that will make virtual reality as tactile, and as present to all our five senses, as the real thing.

Perhaps the most powerful and economically written play of the three, Khallil’s 40-minute drama features outstanding performances from Maureen Beattie as the scientist and Shyvonne Ahmmad as her distant daughter; and leaves us with a feeling of near-despair at the prospect of a world in which every kind of human experience can be destroyed, then artificially recreated at a price, as the only available substitute for what was once our birthright.

The trilogy ends with Vlad Butucea’s impressive debut Glowstick, about the evolving relationship between a woman with severe disability who just wants to die, and Ida, the android sent to look after her. Amid some brilliantly vivid and dream-like language – and with Maureen Beattie and Moyo Akande both in exquisite form – the play emerges as a richly memorable piece of theatre, lifted, like the entire trilogy, by powerful scenic, lighting and video work from Jen McGinley, Simon Wilkinson and Gail Sneddon. And if Interference is not a cheering evening of theatre, it’s both intensely thought-provoking about the possible futures we face, and exhilarating in reminding us of the huge imaginative energy that perhaps represents humanity’s best hope of finding a way through to better times. - JOYCE MCMILLAN