Meet Ada Lovelace, the 'poetical scientist', and daughter of romantic poet Lord Byron. A celebrity in her own time, this celebration of her life aims to restore her accomplishments and genius to the public eye, on the 200th anniversary of her birth. Created and performed by the Edinburgh University Theatre Company (EUTC), the end result is a well-intentioned, well-researched curiosity that's almost as interesting as it sounds.
The more openly informative sections of the play are delivered with clarity and simplicity, and there should be no barrier here to gaining a rudimentary understanding of Ada's great work in the origins of computer programming.
The six-person cast swaps between the roles of Ada and her contemporaries, often slipping out of character to relate her history directly to the audience, creating a piece that is more group presentation than ensemble theatre. There's nothing inherently wrong with that, and someone who might now be considered an obscure figure is clearly fleshed-out; there's a real sense of her pride, her intelligence, and her self-belief.
The verbatim nature of much of the show resurrects her letters, and hearing the words aloud helpfully conveys her state of mind. The role-sharing works to maintain a respectful distance from their characters, making a claim for some objectivity, though this fails to create any real characterisation, and the show is never quite as moving as it wants to be. The performers tend to seem more comfortable, too, when speaking of Ada, rather than playing her or her relatives – there's many an awkward pause and dull interaction that doesn't seem worth its space.
The dramatised letters can fall as flat as paper, since the idioms of Ada's correspondence don't always translate well onto the stage, or reach the poetic heights of her father's legacy. And the overall purpose to these acted sections remains unclear: there is no meaningful order to what we hear, no particular progression, no story or plot. The experience is akin to flicking through an archive that's barely been organised.
Much of the staging veers into ingenuity, with surprising flashes of projection or nifty lighting, while the blend of elegant dance and mechanical choreography hints at the beautiful physical theatre piece this might have been. Add to that a stunningly designed flyer, and Ada seems full of potential. The more openly informative sections of the play are delivered with clarity and simplicity, and there should be no barrier here to gaining a rudimentary understanding of Ada's great work in the origins of computer programming. As a tribute – if not as a piece of theatre – EUTC have certainly succeeded in their aim.