Siri
  • By Tom King
  • |
  • 13th Aug 2017
  • |
  • ★★★★

A two-woman show starring only one woman – not a typo but the conceit at the centre of the latest show by Canadian actress and interactive artist Laurence Dauphinais. The secret, as you’ve probably guessed from the title, is that the second voice comes not from another performer but from Siri, the virtual assistant on Dauphinais’ phone.

Siri is undoubtedly a play with a gimmick but it’s also a thought-provoking exploration of the silent partners we all carry in our pocket.

Putting a technology at the centre of a performance like this means first having to ensure that even the least tech-savvy audience member understands a little about it. This made the show a little slow off the blocks with Dauphinais demoing the system and showcasing the depth of kooky in-jokes coded by the thousands of developers behind Siri.

To a certain extent, this remains true throughout the performance. Dauphinais takes on the role of straight-woman, setting up lines to give Siri a chance to respond unexpectedly and thus many of the early laughs go to the OS, not the actress.

However despite some initial scepticism, I found myself really warming to ‘Siri’. It’s rare that any of us would spend a solid hour interacting with a virtual assistant but such prolonged exposure allows Dauphinais to thoroughly probe the ‘person’ behind the voice, a piecemeal personality constructed update after update and in-joke after in-joke. What emerges is a character strikingly in-tune with modern behaviours - abundant with wacky, glib humour but with an oddly poignant unwillingness to get serious.

Dauphinais skillfully plays off this character - turning a pattern of responses designed to get the user back onto a pre-programmed path into the likeness of a person with hidden depths and possible dark secrets. In fact, we even begin to imagine variations in the deadpan tone of Siri’s stock responses depending on the line reading given by Dauphinais - a declaration of love prompts a pleased tone; an angry tirade, a feeling of hurt. Combined with a clever series of parallels drawn between Laurence and Siri’s personal histories, the result is an intriguing challenge to our notions of where construct ends and consciousness begins.

The use of the inbuilt technologies is also very clever, using the phone’s own camera, speakers and other devices to run almost the entire show. Particular highlights were a chill-inducing monologue of facts created from Dauphinais’ user profile information in response to the question ‘What do you know about me?’ and a beautifully poignant use of the ‘Reminders’ function.

Siri is undoubtedly a play with a gimmick but it’s also a thought-provoking exploration of the silent partners we all carry in our pocket.

Reviews by Tom King

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Performances

Location

The Blurb

With an actress on stage and iPhone’s personal assistant, Siri, her only partner, director Maxime Carbonneau and actress Laurence Dauphinais invent a theatre where chance reigns. Dauphinais, one of the first Canadians created by artificial insemination, quests for her origins using the most famous artificial intelligence as her guide. Through a precise game of question and answer, Dauphinais exposes the bizarre metaphysical dimension of the machine, while blurring the limitations that separate them. Siri is a terrifyingly clever pilgrimage into the mysteries of our own programming. 'Brilliantly unfolds the strange relationship that binds artificial intelligence and the humanoid' (Canoe.ca).

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