Tuesday, September 03, 2019

Pádraic McGinley and David Greene in rehearsal for The Eight.


Pat McEvoy’s weekly reviews as published in the Waterford News & Star


REVIEW: The Eight at Central Arts


MARK’S life is a mess. His flat is rubbish-strewn with cans, food cartons, pizza-boxes and is a metaphor for the disorder of his mind. Socially inept and sexually awkward, his relationship status on Facebook is zilch. He’s got four FB friends – one of which is his mother – and he’s just been sacked from his job. Siri – his Apple Virtual Assistant – is the only one he talks to and Ciara, the love of his life, seems unaware or indifferent to his texts. Things are grim. Siri has blocked his internet searches for ‘suicide assistance’ and has even set up a counselling session with a Samaritan.

Mark’s future looks bleak. That is until The Eight – a media artificial intelligence ball – enters his life and brings order to the disorder of Mark’s life and feelings. The only problem is that Mark can’t be bothered to read the Terms and Conditions and agrees to all of The Eight’s demands. Sounds familiar? Every website now requires a T&C agreement under GDPR (what else?) before you can access it and the T&C are so complex and lengthy that we feel like donkeys looking under the bonnet of a helicopter.

The Eight is now reading Mark’s mind while remaining indifferent to his feelings. He’s like a virus that refuses to go away. The Eight transforms Mark’s profile from insignificant inferior to desirable hunk. Suddenly, he’s got 10,000 friends on FB, 16,000 likes and 4,000 comments. And local model Daenerys Power is stalking him with texts and promises of good times. Librarian Ciara shows up and The Eight tells him exactly what to do and say. Things move from sad to spectacular. They’re even having sex in the library – hopefully in the restricted area! Still… top shelf stuff!

It’s too good to last. When Ciara shows up with her own programmed responses, it’s obvious that she has invested in her own version of The Eight. Both artificial intelligences go to war on the emotional battle field of the fragile young lovers. When an internet outage interrupts, Ciara’s wounded feelings stand up like rotted timbers on the frontiers of her pain. “Was it ever real… who was I really talking to… who did I fall in love with?”

Unfortunately, Luke Corcoran’s plot is so complex that it is difficult to unravel and there is just too much explaining going on. Internet outages are the only vehicle to allow the young couple reveal their true selves and the number of them jars. A direct address from The Eight to the seated audience is unnecessary because everything he says is implicit in the script and the artificial intelligence that boasts no feelings suddenly seems to feel threatened and betrayed.

Waterford playwright Luke Corcoran has penned a super comedy here that asks some pertinent questions that are relevant to all android users. T&C can make prisoners of anyone. Think of how often Google want access to your location, friends and photographs? How real are FB lives and thoughts as lived out in social media? And if you can’t have your picture taken with a beautiful partner swinging in a hammock beside a white beach with a glass of vino in the láimh, is your life really a failure? How sincere are social media comments?

Corcoran’s characters are diverse, entertaining and propel the action along. Waterford actor David Greene is brilliant as the hapless Mark. Greene’s timing is spot-on and has his audience rocking with laughter at his helpless urban Everyman character who is a mishmash of hurt and insecurity. Lucy Jones is superb as his librarian lover who is secretly struggling with her own romantic insecurities. Pádraic McGinley is an aggressive Eight who doesn’t take prisoners or suffer fools like Mark very easily. Niamh Sweeney sparkles as Mark’s PC witty artificial intelligence but aggressive and domineering in a dual-role as Ciara’s version of The Eight.

In many ways, this is a traditional bromance with futuristic add-ons. Ultimately, young lovers meet, obstacles intervene, lovers reunite, misunderstanding intervenes before the lovers overcome all barriers and unite as one happy couple.

“Comedy is no laughing matter,” said the great Groucho Marx. So… congratulations to Luke Corcoran and his excellent cast on an entertaining comedy that tells some pointed home-truths.

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By Pat McEvoy, Arts Correspondent
Contact Newsdesk: 051 874951

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