Heartbeats & Algorithms

theatre review (edinburgh) | Read in About 2 minutes
Published 14 Aug 2015

We are what we click. That's the premise of this darkly funny new play by writer and performer Jenny Lee, about the increasingly colonised space of the internet. Her character, Banks, is a programmer at an investment bank. When she develops a potentially lucrative algorithm for predicting people's behaviour, its impact on her own life begins to drive her to extremes.

With economy and an acute eye for telling details, Lee establishes a world haunted by predictability. Valentina Ceschi's production, with its moody lighting and ominous soundscape, plays on our expectations with its thriller-like overtones. Banks's obsession with whether or not the algorithm is anticipating her behaviour, or causing it, taps into an acutely modern concern about the unseen influence of digital marketing.

But this is also a piercingly observed study of loneliness, as Banks—so proficient with coding—struggles with the messiness of the real world and her inability to adapt to the maze of social codes at work and home. And Lee's flat diction in the scenes mimicking online chatrooms and forums also captures brilliantly the arcane banality of acronyms and smiley faces.

As Banks, Lee switches with subtle effectiveness between avatar and awkwardness, as a mysterious prediction from her insistent algorithm finds her uneasily online at 3am with blood on her face. But then the play blossoms unexpectedly into a joyful celebration of life offline. Its victory lap on behalf of human spontaneity goes on too long, but the wellspring of hope is deep and fresh.