Software engineer Merril deals with the vanishing of her younger sister Angie in an unconventional way – she takes all the digital material Angie left behind and creates an AI version of her sister. This version of Angie provides the comfort she's been seeking, even bringing love back into her life, but as her connection to ‘virtual Angie' becomes more obsessive, she discovers that the AI may now hold the key to finding out what happened to its IRL counterpart… 


Anthropology's script is largely excellent – Lauren Gunderson's writing is captivating, deeply moving, and expertly humorous considering the heavy themes it carries. Though there are occasional moments (especially towards the end of the play) that seem overly laboured or unnecessarily hurried, in general, the way she navigates the swift twists and turns of this plot is brilliant, and we are on the edge of our seats throughout, whether that be from palpable sympathy or tension.  


As is always a risk with art that portrays a specific version of a digital future, there are a few questions surrounding the science of this AI and how it develops/interacts with the world around it that are left unexplained; though the power with which Gunderson invests the audience in such a compelling narrative doesn't allow us to dwell on these for long. Aside from this, the overall exploration of AI's place in our world, specifically when it comes to human connection, is fascinating. The audience leave the auditorium full of discussion topics, from AI ethics to the danger of reliance on it, without ever having been fed an intended argument too forcefully.   


All four performers are strong, though MyAnna Buring is absolutely exceptional in her complexly nuanced portrayal of grief-stricken yet manically hopeful Merril. She brings a frantic naturalism and depth to her performance, and we are utterly engrossed from start to finish. Yolanda Kettle, though on stage far less, performs with confident ease, cleverly contrasting yet complimenting Merril's energy as her concerned but grounded girlfriend. Anna Ledwich's direction provides powerful use of the entire stage space (no doubt complimented by Sara Green's movement and intimate direction) that becomes the perfect accompaniment to this play's intense waves of varying energy.  


The entire technical team must be lauded for their contribution to this production. Georgia Lowe's simplistic but striking set (with a hidden surprise!) provides the perfect backdrop for James Whiteside's breathtaking lighting design – Whiteside has mastered both striking visuals and extreme subtlety to completely shape the atmosphere of every moment, enhanced further still by Max Pappenheim's sparing but oh-so-effective sound design. However, it is Daniel Denton's video work that steals the show. Aside from furthering the aesthetic beauty of the production as a whole, it is no small feat to create a connection between actors on stage and screen in live theatre, and Denton does so in a manner that is so slick and appears effortless. 


This play is a striking and thrilling exploration of love, grief, and imminent challenges facing us at the hands of technology's future.  


It runs at Hampstead Theatre until 14th October. 


Review: Penny Lane             Photo: The Other Richard