How will we take our smartphone addicted culture to new heights in the future?

Emerging theatre maker Khairul Kamsani brings back his 2014 speculative play Human+ with a new cast, a new script and a new venue. Unlike what you might come to expect of a piece about technology and the future, Human+ is a stripped down, minimalist piece that is reliant almost completely on its actors to draw out the script’s subtle nuances and tell its story.

Written, directed and produced by Khairul himself, Human+ is a play set in a not too distant future, following schoolteacher Kara Andrei (Shu Yi Ching), as she undergoes a revolutionary new experimental surgery to introduce the Head Drive into her body, a device that allows her to connect to the Internet from inside her and perform superhuman feats such as vastly increased strength, intelligence and all around functionality, to the chagrin of suspicious naysayers such as Dr Amble (Jo Tan). Of course, as with all cautionary sci-fi tales, the Head Drive is mired in bugs, emerging in increasingly disturbing ways as a far greater threat emerges from the birth of the Head Drive.

Human+ is in possession of an extremely talented cast who are all strong actors in their own right. Shu Yi, for one, was a standout amongst the four seen onstage, managing to deliver some of the more complex and lengthy lines, while also showcasing a marked change in character from her former, emotional human self to a more robotic, ascended hybrid of man and machine. Khairul’s script is a challenging one, filled with lengthy dialogue that often lasts for just a little too long, and Human+ might have benefitted from more showing, less telling. One wishes that there had been a more stringent script editing process to bring out the story hidden under the heavy jargon and overabundance of explanations that pepper the script, and more moments that allowed the cast to emote, such as a good early scene between Dr Nickson (Mitchell Lagos) and Kara as they share a moment of genuine connection with each other.

The bare bones set design of Human+ lends a certain coldness to the stage that highlights the rise of non-human technology, and perhaps, the mechanical nature of the hospital’s adherence to protocol or treating humans as test subjects. Human+, for all its minamlist aesthetic, might have done well to include a few projections or a more stylized directorial thrust. At times, Human+ does attempt a few fancy scenes depicting characters such as Dr McCaine (Prem John) facing a digital battle for control of his head space, but the flashy lights used do more to evoke a theme park ride than an internal struggle. In Human+’s promotional efforts, Khairul released a few videos that told of ‘success stories’ from people benefitting from the technology featured in the play, and one wonders if showing some of those videos during the play itself might have better immersed audiences in the world these characters inhabit.

Overall, though it has its problems, there’s treasure buried in this production if one digs deeper and and develops it further. There’s nothing inherently wrong with the production: it’s a story that makes sense, the characters make perfectly logical decisions, and though familiar, it’s interesting enough in its presentation to feel original. Towards the end of the show, Human+ really finds its edge when it arrives at the climactic, cinematic conclusion and reveals its true potential. Alas, despite having some great ideas up his sleeves, we’ll have to wait till Khairul returns from his studies in London in a year before we see if Human+ ever ascends to the next level, and we can only hope he brings it back at some point in future, closer to perfection than ever before.

Performance attended 2/9/17

Human+ plays from 30th August to 3rd September at the KC Arts Centre. Tickets available from SISTIC

When: Till 3rd Sep, 3pm
Where: KC Arts Centre

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