Black Swans, written by Christina Kettering and translated by Pauline Wick makes its UK debut at the Omnibus Theatre. The metaphorical title refers to an unforeseen event that has dramatic consequences. It is a tense, probing look into the ethics surrounding caregiving, familial duty and the potential risks of Artificial Intelligence.

The first half of the play explores the emotionally charged tension within a family dynamic that arises when a parent becomes ill and needs round the clock care. As the two sisters are unnamed and only differentiated by ‘older’ and ‘younger’, it easily allows the audience to imagine being in their position. This is furthered by a simple yet immersive set with traverse seating; we feel as if we are sat in the room with them, forced to empathise with their dilemma.

The sisters lead opposite lifestyles; the older (Camila França) is happily unmarried and able to float around, while the younger (Trine Garrett) is married with two kids and feels anchored to the family home. The older sister is content with sending their mother to a care home while the younger is adamant that it would be a form of neglect. Their relationship is fractious; the older sister constantly critiquing the younger, in a way that only a family member could.

Flashbacks to childhood attempt to explain the built-up resentment yet it feels relatively cliché – the older sister claims she was always having to care for her younger sister, while the younger sister claims that she was always left behind. The contrary sisters seem bound to each other by an invisible thread, their mother’s need for support pulling them back together.

After the younger sister moves their mother into her family home in an act of compassion, she realises that she has vastly underestimated the burden it will incur on her already busy life and the second half of the play sees the two reckon with the possibility that an AI robot, Rosie could be the answer to all their problems. She has all the likeness of a real human with feminine features and is programmed to provide tailorised care for the person in need. She monitors the data in her environment to ensure the best for her patient. Sounds perfect, so what could possibly go wrong?

Black Swans cleverly presents the use of AI in the sphere of healthcare in an original way. It highlights the flawed nature of being human; we have our physical limits and an ego that can be easily damaged. However, our human nature is also what gives us compassion and empathy, something an AI robot can only mimic.

Although the play fails to provide any conclusions, it leaves us thinking, how much trust should be placed in the hands of Artificial Intelligence when it comes to our data, health and our loved ones?

Photo credit: Tim Morozzo