JACK DATA is a light play about a dark subject. Funny in places with thought provoking moments, it is a new Australian work with a welcome Aussie openness about the pressures on young women to match and hatch. The show is playing as part of the FRESHWORKS program at Old 505 Theatre, Newtown, a program which supports new Australian writing and performance.
It’s Alice’s birthday and despite their assurances not to keep doing so, her parents have let themselves into her flat. Alice has reached that magic number, 31 and Helen and Bart seem to have slipped quietly into parental overdrive. Procreation and the provision of grandchildren is no longer a subject for polite discussion and less than gentle hinting, the pair think they have solved the vexing issue with their gift. A ‘perfect man’ robotic humanoid who comes equipped with reproductive options. Jack Data.
This character, Jack Data, is played by Mathias Olofsson with charm, detail and an uncluttered fussiness. He pulls off the very neat trick of displaying the impassivity of the mechanical while engendering the empathy we feel for the powerless. He has the mannerisms and facial expressions just right, maintained and focused throughout the show and we miss him when he powers down. There were several sad ohhhs in the audience when he was rejected initially by Alice and when he falls to the floor later in the show there were distinct gasps of loss. His exterior work is broad enough to be comic yet Olofsson very subtly implies the programming flaw which might explain our response to Jack.
Alice (Amelia Tranter) is indeed lost in this new world and does take time to understand and appreciate the otherness of Jack. As Helen, Christine Greenough is warm and her characterisation makes clear her love and understanding of her daughter. Bart, who spends a great deal of time watching and responding, is played with sock and sandal solidity by Richard Cotter. The two other characters are married couple Sabrina and Ryan. They are friends of Alice and serve to give more detail about Alice’s life away from her parents. Elly Hiranni Clapin as airhead Sabrina and Julian Rumandi as the faithless Ryan in reacting to Jack initially on a human level and later an objective one also provide fresh perspective for the audience.
The story of JACK DATA is intriguing, it is a modern comedy of manners about a subject in film and writing more often associated with male sexuality than with female reproduction. Through subplot and some comic and clever lines, the audience become somewhat like Alice. They care more about Jack than he does about himself. Anthropomorphism or not, humans get attached when they are without agenda in the matter. For Bart and Helen, Jack is just an end to a means and they have no compunction in being ruthless with the object. For Ryan, a threat and for Sabrina, an object of curiosity.
Just storytelling alone, though, does not make a complete theatre experience and in this first outing of JACK DATA, written and directed by Ruth Bell, the play is not dissimilar to our eponymous hero. There is a lack of excitement in the production, despite a text which expresses betrayal and elation. Unfortunately, the direction doesn’t explore those highs and lows as there is a lack of energy and emotion in the performances that flattens the effect of the several surprises. But audiences are still able to enjoy the narrative of this well-rehearsed production which has enough laughs to make it enjoyable and enough possibility to happily engage an audience.