LOVE+ director Claire O’Reilly chats the inevitability of human/robot relationships

What happens to romance when there’s a machine who cooks for you, cleans for you, tells you you’re beautiful, holds you when you’re crying, and still makes you cum? Well, this is the questions LOVE+, from the award-winning MALAPROP Theatre Company, will look to answer when it arrives in Australia for the first time next month.

On September 11th, as part of Brisbane Festival, LOVE+ will dive into the inevitability human/robot relationships. But before then, we caught up with the show’s director Claire O’Reilly to chat all about it.

Before LOVE+ makes its way down under for the first time next month, we caught up with the show’s director Claire O’Reilly for a chat.

HAPPY: Hey, how are things? What are you up to at the moment?

CLAIRE: Hello! Things are groovy. I’m in the middle of a Big Little Lies binge and wishing that a) there was some way I could formally acknowledge Laura Dern’s sublime gesticulations and b) that she would care if I did so.

HAPPY: Could you tell us a bit about yourself?

CLAIRE: Sure. I’m the director in an Irish theatre company called MALAPROP. At my best, I’m an ebullient, fun-loving optimist, and at my worst, I’m the opposite of that.

HAPPY: We’re excited for Love+ to come to Australia for the first time. How long has this production been showing around the world now?

CLAIRE: 4 years. We presented the first iteration of LOVE+ in January 2015, the version we know today came into fruition by that September. Four years feels both way too long and impossibly short.

HAPPY: Have real experiences with technology shaped the play and the characters in it?

CLAIRE: Yes. Both as background research and segments that still feature. Not necessarily always our direct experiences with these technologies (process spoiler! No sexing of AI sexdolls!), but we were inspired by what others were doing/writing about in the field. As it’s a topic where the research is constantly outgrowing itself, things we were interested in would take on new meanings as the process developed. For example, in the show, there’s a live chat with a sexbot. Initially, this chat meant ‘Wow, look how detailed and vulgar this is! And you can already do this online!’ now it’s more like ‘Look how archaic this interface is! And how remedial the responses are! And yet 500 people spoke to this guy daily in 2011!

HAPPY: There have been some memorable android performances over the years. Were there other works you looked to as a creative reference when building this play?

CLAIRE: Oh yeah, the wealth of material on this was a draw. Blade Runner, Her, 2001, WALL-E, Ex Machina, there was loads.

HAPPY: Do you think there are already people who’ve fallen in love with machines?

CLAIRE: Totally. A favourite example comes from the show’s namesake: in 2009, a gamer called Sal 9000 married Nene Anegasakia, a character in the Nintendo DS game LovePlus. He comes off relatively self-aware in interviews about their relationship (in terms of acknowledging that their marriage isn’t legally binding etc.), but ultimately insists she’s preferable to a human girlfriend. So, I mean, did he fall in love with her? I don’t know, but he’s certainly committed to her, which ranks high in the success metrics of most relationships. I can’t find details on whether they’re still together, no news is good news though?!

HAPPY: And how accurate of a speculation do you think Love+ will become?

CLAIRE: It depends. From a technical perspective, it’s unlikely we’ll still interact with Netflix and handheld hoovers the way we do in the show in a time when there’s a bot as sophisticated as the one we depict. That’s just a glib way of me confessing we didn’t always focus/care too much about the accuracy of the invention/era in question. What I do think will hold up is how the questions we already ask ourselves about the authenticity of our feelings might translate in matters of human/robot love. One of the fundamental questions the show deals with is ‘How do I know for sure you love me like you say you do?’ which, I mean, isn’t exactly confined to the 21st century onward, but the ‘future’ scenario we speculate feels imminent.

HAPPY: Do you have anything else coming up?

CLAIRE: We’re developing a new show for a deadly Irish company and their deadly Irish festival called THISISPOPBABY and Where We Live, respectively. The show is about the micro and macro of inherited bad behaviour. A lot of it is set on a cruise ship. Also, the world is on fire – which I mean figuratively (kind of). It’s early days, but it looks like there’ll be lots of singing, which is a departure in style I’m buzzed for.

LOVE+ will be showing as part of Brisbane Festival on September 11th. More info here.