by Susan Darlington
ROBOTS in art usually want to kill humans or become more like them through artificial intelligence.
But the success of Pipeline Theatre’s Spillikin is that it places a physically and emotionally static robot as the touchstone for a moving meditation on human change.
Designed as a companion for Sally (Judy Norman) by her now-dead husband Raymond, the robot is programmed with memories of her partner.
Struggling with dementia, Sally first resents the imposition and then, as she grows increasingly confused, accepts and crosses the border of acceptability, putting her husband’s glasses on the robot and holding its hand.
Through these interactions, her life is revealed through a series of flashbacks to the couple’s early life together, reincarnated by Hannah Stephens as the wannabe-cool Sally and Mike Tonkin Jones as her engineering geek partner.
The robot’s conversational prompts make her remember her wedding, her anxieties over being a bad wife and her deep and abiding love for Raymond.
The memories show the fallibilities — the design flaws — of being human. Her husband inherited a degenerative, life-shortening condition and the words she used as a music writer are slowly being stolen from her through her own disease. Yet Spillikin also shows that it’s those fallibilities that make us human.
To the backbeat of Blondie’s Parallel Lines, we see the beauty of falling in love and caring for someone else, despite the heartache it can cause. These poignant and occasionally humorous reminders mean that the robot, brilliantly created by Will Jackson, never overpowers the show. Its role is in providing contrast rather than exerting domination and in doing so it reveals the pain, the flaws — and ultimately the joys — of being human.
Tours until April 7, details: www.pipelinetheatre.com