There’s a very funny and unexpectedly touching short play hiding in Robots Vs. Art.
Welcome to the future. Robots got super smart and killed off most of the naughty humans who were destroying the world; the rest now work in underground mines and get beaten with chains. One robot (Simon Maiden) is researching “art” and wrote a play, so it’s lucky that there’s a once-playwright/director (Daniel Frederiksen) is in the mines who wants to convince the bots about the importance of art and feeling.
I honestly thought this was a first-time script, until realising that I had seen (and loved) Travis Cotton’s writing, like The Rites of Evil. The first half has clunky exposition, slabs of telling the play-going audience that plays and art are good things, OMG-you’ve-already-told-us repetition, less-funny-the-second/third-time jokes and direction that seems intent on prolonging every scene with enough dead stage time to let me read my program and decide what to make for dinner. And we know more about the robot than the hero’s character at this stage.
Or: The script would benefit from a good edit.
Cotton also directs. When going all meta with characters explaining the nature and structure of plays, declaring that art is good, talking about reviews that “seem unkind”, stressing the importance of empathy and using lines like “The script is devoid of anything resembling art”, the direction and tone have to be so ironic that we laugh with you and are not tempted to use it against you.
Then, perhaps an hour in, Robots Vs. Art finds its tone, settles on a pace, gives its characters some life, becomes laugh-out-loud funny and brings its audience into a shared experience. It’s great stuff and Paul Goddard and Natasha Jacobs are the best robots since (insert your favourite robot). There are hints of this in the early part, but it may help if Clawbot (my new favourite robot) pulverises a good chunk of the beginning.