AdaBorn in December 1815, the daughter of the “mad, bad and dangerous to know” Lord Byron, this year sees the 200th anniversary of the birth of Augusta Ada King, the mathematician who collaborated with Charles Babbage on his proposed “analytical engine” for which she conceived instructions which in modern parlance would be regarded as primitive computer programmes.

Thus, Countess Lovelace, as she was to become, can be regarded as the first computer programmer, a pioneer of science in an age when women were seldom recognised for their intellect or achievements, and it is with this anniversary in mind that the Edinburgh University Theatre Company, conceived and directed by Melanie Phillips and staged in the company’s traditional venue, the Bedlam Theatre, have crafted Ada in recognition of this “enchantress of numbers.”

Dressed in black, the performers Benjamin Aluwihare, Pedro Leandro, Will Hearle, Caroline Elms, Ella Rogers, Elsa van der Wal and En Thompson perform “movement” to the sounds of clockworks against a minimalist white backdrop before moving to the front of the stage to introduce themselves and in patronising and clumsy interludes they attempt to explain how algorithms work, stumbling over technical dialogue which they have clearly learned by rote without any comprehension of the meaning of the lines.

When addressing the audience directly an expression of surprise is made that during research it was discovered that two hundred years previously no computing equipment as it is currently understood existed, that all calculations had to be carried out manually, demonstrating both the depth of the knowledge void and their profound inability to articulate the ideas which form the basis of their presentation.

At other times the cast mime actions to pre-recorded voices causing a disconnection which leaves the stage lifeless, though this is preferable to the overwrought piano pounding in the background like some melancholy Russian composer with an absinthe hangover or Lovelace dancing with her white sheet around her shoulders, hoisted aloft by her companions as she discusses her theories of aerodynamics, plaintive strings simulating her longing for flight.

As hands are wrung and twisted in projected angst on the rear wall of the stage, volume is deemed equivalent to emotion, Babbage in particular displaying an appropriately binary dynamic of either pouting or shouting. With no illumination or clear insight into the life or work of Ada Lovelace in the hour long show, only one moment rings true as she is pinned beneath the same white sheet, her futile struggle beneath encapsulating the good intentions trying to escape from the pretentious trappings which smother them. Both the lady and the audience deserve far better than this.

Ada continues until Sunday 30th August



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