For many of us Artificial Intelligence feels like something that will exist only in the future, pushing it to the back of our minds before turning to Alexa to play our favourite song. Of course, the future is here, our digital assistants are learning all the time, and advancements in self-driving cars are regularly covered in the press. Autopilot, written by Ben Norris and playing at Pleasance Courtyard for the Edinburgh Fringe, creates a very modern love story with self-driving cars as the backdrop.
Rowan and Nic couldn’t be more different. Rowan is a relatively well-off geo-spatial engineer, who’s even managed to save a little for the millennials holy grail…a deposit. Nic is a successful graphic designer, but lives in relative poverty. The two meet when they are both commissioned by TFL to work on projects for the Elizabeth Line, they fall in love but whether they live happily ever after remains to be seen.
Autopilot is an impressive two hander, and in the same vein as say Constellations, runs in non-chronological order. This is a tricky structure to attempt and more often than not fails the audience, but here Norris has successfully constructed a narrative that slowly comes together with satisfying clarity for the audience.
We jump from one point in the story to another with only lighting cues for guidance, with no props or set, the rest of Autopilot is up to the cast to deliver. Norris tackles a range of subjects; the climate crisis, anti-capitalism and cost of living to name a few, but threaded through it all is the development of the self-driving car and a philosophical debate known as the ‘trolley problem’.
In the event of an inevitable fatal collision, what decision would a self-driving car make and how would it make. Would it prioritise its passengers (the customers who bought the car) or the pedestrians. It’s a very clever metaphor for life, and these characters lives in particular, Norris asks the audience to think very carefully about the decisions we make every day, and just how selfish they are.
Autopilot is a hard-hitting contemporary love story with a superbly well-constructed concept behind it, and if you were to ask Alexa for a gripping new play to watch at Edinburgh Fringe, Autopilot would surely be the response.