Politician turned scientist Jamie Pee (Jane Paul) has created Ernest (Bethany Miller), an experimental artificial intelligence. Ernest exists to discover a solution to prevent humans from repeating their mistakes, which she will do by reviewing case files specially selected by her creator. The establishing scene sets up the narrative and Ernest’s journey, and I’m interested in finding out what solution Ernest will come across and what these case files involve.
As a whole, poor direction and hammy dialogue hamper Biased Beyond Belief. The staging is static; much of the action is conversation between two characters, usually while seated. The dialogue is detail-heavy and literal, where more could be said between the lines. The show’s penultimate scene is a good example of where it breaks from the stasis, where characters Jamie Pee and Drew Piddle (Adam James) engage in a political fistfight, exchanging punches and arguments with equal ferocity. It’s highly energetic and enthralling, but the scene comes too late to redeem the show from its flat, uninteresting “tell don’t show” staging.
Jane Paul and Adam James both play four characters each, and they work well together, like when the friendship between their characters Julia and Amos starts to evolve; there’s a good ‘awkwardness’ about their chemistry. Some characters are quite similar, which makes it difficult to distinguish between them and confuses the action, as the audience spends more focus figuring out who this person is than paying attention to what they’re doing. The change in costumes and physical quirks do help, however.
The show sports strong lighting and AV design. Devon Nuku’s lighting shifts between clubs, electronic malfunctions and corrupted files, and a lecture hall. The colour scheme is relatively muted for the realistic spaces, and bright hues flood the more metaphorical ones. Kahurangi Cronin’s projection adds a graphic to the transitions, giving them a ‘loading… please wait’ kind of feel. Though, they get repetitive by the play’s end. Cronin’s projection and Nuku’s lighting work in tandem, like the blaring red lights and projected warning signs when Ernest encounters an error. The black and white costumes look sleek, and Paul and James’ detailed white makeup gives a subtle futuristic touch.
Ernest is an incredibly interesting character, and Miller's performance shows steady character development. Jagged jerks and broken sentences give way to eloquent arguments and fluid gestures. This change is gradual, reinforcing the idea we are watching Ernest learn. Miller sustains her character exceptionally, as she is posed in a semicircle upstage for most of the performance. Miller writes formulae on the back wall throughout the play, where her character attempts to solve why we make the mistakes and assumptions over and over again. Though too small to read from the seating block, this is an excellent expression of Ernest’s thought process.
Biased Beyond Belief is at its best when Ernest is at its centre. Ernest has the clearest conventions of the characters, and her role in the story is much clearer than the others. Because of this, I wonder why Ernest isn’t more at the forefront. It feels like the story belongs to Ernest; her narrative explores the play’s core ideas: mistakes, honesty, and technology. It’s Ernest who decides when one case file ends and the next begins, and it’s Ernest that does all the problem solving via her wall of formulae.
Biased Beyond Belief hasn’t yet found the interesting parts of its story. The programme mentions, “technology has created ways to edit and sway information”, which is something Biased Beyond Belief touches on with the ‘bias blocker’ upgrade for humans it talks about, but there’s much more to this idea left unexplored. Biased Beyond Belief’s scientific premise is exciting, but there’s no real payoff as it diverts to a sequence of loosely-related two-hander scenes. I left confused and unsatisfied, questioning who the show is actually about, and what it is trying to explore in its premise.