BWW Review: ROOM SERVICE, Bread And Roses Theatre
In a nondescript but not-too-distant future, hotels are starting to use anthropomorphic robots to enhance the stay of their guests. Each one of them has a predictive software that tracks their patron from their booking onward, creating a digital model to cater to all their needs - even those they're unaware of.
When Max (Andrew Mullan) checks in, Zahra (Emma Stannard) is ready for him. Part lady-in-waiting, part doctor, part adviser, the machine starts off making him suspicious and unenthused by the attention it gives him; this quickly changes when he finds himself on the brink of damaging his own stability because of his drunken deeds.
Richard Fitchett's Room Service sits between the reality portrayed by Years & Years and Black Mirror, installing a fascinating exploration of the boundaries between AI and man. Max brings up his issues with the evident (but not illegal) breach of data protection protocols and calls upon the ethics of robotics to rebuke Zahra's services, but ends up being fully invested in them once he realises his conduct might be harmful to his family.
Fitchett's script is smooth and subtle, but Micha Mirto's direction could be tighter in this case. The long, pitch black scene changes left behind almost like an afterthought weigh heavy on the general pace, which is otherwise remarkable. Stannard is unflappable as the robot. She makes the typical idiosyncrasies of announcements over PA systems her own, setting up a striking difference with Mullan's emotive delivery.
She bounces off the feelings of guilt and distress he projects on her, which interweaves situational comedy within the dire and worrisome realism of data harvesting and moral codes. While Room Service presents an escalation of AI power seemingly at the benefit of humans, it kick-starts a chilling reflection on modern day control. Zahra is able to access private information that's supposed to be protected as well as thousands of CCTV footage to keep track of her guest.
While Max keeps hailing the beauty of human beings and their natural instinct to empathise, it's his fallibility that brings him to the point of having to rely on an inanimate object and its ability to manipulate code. Just like future health issues are prevented by the robot's daily checks of Max's levels of cholesterol, the effects of the man's actions are easily ruled out by a fake phone call to stave off a potential marital crisis.
Mullan and Stannard might be delivering a tale imbued with hints of sci-fi, but Fitchett's concealing (or perhaps even anticipating) an alarming battle between conscience and the immediacy of software-powered solutions.