Edinburgh Festival Fringe theatre review: Heartbeats & Algorithms, reviewed by The Scotsman’s Sally Stott.
“You are what you click,” says the chisel-cheeked, sleek and unemotional woman standing in front of us. Her name is Banks, she’s a computer programmer in the financial industry, and is creating a complex algorithm that uses personal information to predict how people will behave. Through testing it on herself as a guinea pig, she discovers something sinister: no matter how much she tries to trick it by doing things she never normally would, it doesn’t make mistakes.
We, the audience, are the computer geeks in the forum Banks regularly visits to discuss her work – a place where friendships are defined by empty emoticons and there’s an acronym for every occasion. But in trying to beat a piece of software – by carrying out increasingly uncharacteristic acts (such as actually dressing down on Dress Down Friday or emailing a joke to everyone at work) – she grows to experience the thrill of spontaneity and trying something new.
Through writer and performer Jenny’s Lee thrillingly spiky script – bleak, funny and yet ultimately hopeful – we get an insight into the woman behind the unemotional exterior, one who’s sharp, intelligent and determined to not to be controlled by anyone or anything, but also likes Taylor Swift. As understated sci-fi, the story provides a pertinent commentary on how the personal data we give away online can be used by advertisers and governments to erode our freedom. “If we know what you want, we can stop you from getting it. If we know how you think, we can control it,” Banks dispassionately explains.
However, it’s through moving from the virtual to the real world that she finds happiness – a reminder that while technology can do amazing things, it’s still human connections that we value most.
Pleasance Courtyard (Venue 33) until 31 August / listings
Published in The Scotsman on 20 August 2015
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