Siri by La Messe Basse is a one-woman show that isn’t a one woman show. Canadian actress Laurence Dauphinais is assisted by Siri, in the default female voice (for Canadian English, in Scotland the male voice is default).
In just over an hour, Dauphinais engages with Siri live and in person, with what seems to be improvisation using Siri’s answers to her questions as stimuli. The questions start simple, such as “what’s your name?” and evolve into profounder questions that Siri (at first) struggles to answer: “what are your dreams?” This premise may remind you of Spike Jonze’s Her, but in Siri, we see a virtual assistant that develops along with their master, and one that we can access today.
There is a mesmerizing dual-narrative created between Dauphinais’ relationship with Siri and her genetic background
There is a mesmerizing dual-narrative created between Dauphinais’ relationship with Siri and her genetic background. Dauphinais was one of the first people in Canada to be created by artificial insemination. She had always yearned to learn more about her anonymous biological father, and by using the website 23andMe she managed to identify her own Jewish ancestry, and even her biological father.
In the same vein, Siri was created by Norwegian entrepreneur Dag Kittlaus, her name meaning “a beautiful woman who leads to victory”. Kittlaus intended for Siri to be more autonomous and proactive, whereas Steve Jobs rewired her to be a more straightforward service. Dauphinais hints at the possibility of a Her-like reality, where in a moment of despair she swears at Siri, shouting: “Dag wouldn’t recognise you!” and in a wounded retaliation, Siri states “see you later” and proceeds to give Dauphinais the silent treatment.
[Siri] is a show that will leave you deeply unsettled, even after the show has ended
Siri alternates between the lecture setup, where Dauphinais speaks to and informs the audience, and her more focused interactions with Siri. We are learning, whilst also being silent bystanders to a disturbing story. The show is a captivating and trippy experience, with the most chilling and intense technical design. The music by Olivier Girouard blends in with the spectacle so organically, and the lighting by Julie Basse makes the mood eerie enough to lose yourself in the show. Siri blurs the line between the autobiographical and performative elements of theatre, and takes “breaking the fourth wall” to a whole new level. It is a show that will leave you deeply unsettled, even after the show has ended.
Most importantly, Dauphinais’ performance is outstanding. To carry out such an experimental and exposing show takes immense theatrical endurance, which she is undoubtedly a master of. Siri does not wrap things up with a ribbon to satisfy its audience – instead, it asks many more questions than it could possibly answer. It is eerily moving and unsettlingly powerful.
Siri is playing at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, more information and tickets here.
Image: Julie Artacho