Catrin Aaron stars in the world première production of Tim Price’s Isla. In a co-production with the Royal Court Theatre, the production the play opens at Theatr Clwyd on October 21 with previews from the 16 October, and runs until 6 November.
Tamara Harvey directs Mark Lambert as Roger, Lisa Zahra as Erin, and Catrin Aaron as PC Jones and the titular role of Isla.
Catrin Aaron plays Isla. She is an Associate for Theatr Clwyd, where she is currently appearing in Missing Julie. Her other work for the company includes Orpheus Descending.
You’re appearing in Isla at Theatr Clwyd, what can you tell us about the play?
Isla is a brilliant new play about an older man’s experience of lockdown with just an AI device as company, his relationship with his daughter, and a beautifully, brutally truthful look at what it is to feel a bit lost and left behind.
What was it about Tim Price’s script that excited you the most?
I think what excited me is the amount of ground that it covers and how relatable it is. The play comments so deftly and comically on a whole range of topics that have been universal in the last couple of years, yet feel so particular to the characters in the play.
Tell us about your character and what makes this such an unusual role?
I play the voice of the Isla, which is a digital assistant similar to Alexa or Siri. It’s been unusual because ‘she’ is AI and so you obviously can’t play human emotions or respond to the other characters in the way you normally would. But Tamara (Harvey) and I talked about the notion of machine learning and how that would affect her lines throughout the play – how sophisticated her speech delivery and pronunciation would become the more she ‘learns’ about Roger.
Also, we wanted to play around with moments where Isla appears to be human, where Roger – through his isolation – possibly believes he’s conversing with a real person. I also play a character called PC Jones, an exquisitely written Flintshire police officer who is my absolute hero.
Do you think about digital assistants differently since taking on the role?
I think I’m probably just as wary (more so!) about digital assistants in terms of privacy and data protection. But I’m definitely now more conscious of our everyday relationship with and reliance on these devices, especially those that we increasingly anthropomorphise. I imagine the race is on for companies to develop AI that will pass the Turing Test, and with the grim reality of sex bots and such, I wonder what the long term effect will be on mental health, human interaction and relationships.
Tell us about your relationship with Theatr Clwyd and why you feel so passionate about the venue?
Theatr Clwyd is an unbelievably special place for me. Growing up in Rhyl it was my nearest venue, so my first experiences of theatre. It was my inspiration to become an actor, my first job out of drama school; it’s been my training ground for the last twenty years, my springboard into other great theatres, and I’m so lucky to continue working there during Tamara’s tenure.
There’s something quite magical about the fact that my first acting job back after lockdown is at Theatr Clwyd and that it’ll be the penultimate EWT production before the incredibly exciting redevelopment. I owe everything to that theatre and am so proud of all the productions I’ve been involved in and the deep connection I have to the place. It’s a venue much treasured by everyone who both visits and works there, and there is enormous collective gratitude to see it buzzing with audience again.
What would you say to anyone thinking of coming to see Isla?
It’ll be a brilliant night out: entertaining, challenging, moving, surprising, technologically explosive, and live. AND you’ll be in the bar by 9.30. Perfect.