Error 404 Review: "A Quirky Adventure In Philosophy"

Chris Gray reviews a pioneering production at the Polka Theatre

Don’t let the title put you off. This isn’t a play about computer problems, but a quirky adventure in philosophy that puts the children in the audience in the driving seat.

They get to choose the characters’ names, invent the online games they play and make key decisions about the plot, taking time out along the way to ponder some fundamental questions about what it is to be human

If it sounds a bit serious, don’t worry. It’s all done with a lot of comedy and mime so the children (who need to be eight or above) are laughing as much as they’re thinking hard.

It tells the story of a boy who learns his best friend has died when an Error 404 message appears as he logs on to play his pal in the online game they love.

He finds some sort of replacement in a robot that can play the game and appears to have some human characteristics.

But can you really be friends with a machine? Can a robot have human feelings? What is it that really makes a human different from a super-intelligent computer?

They’re big questions for eight-year-olds, and they get bigger. The play also delves into questions around what makes people good or bad. The children are even asked to consider whether or not a bad person who is made good through a mind altering medical procedure remains the same person.

The children are never put on the spot; the questions are posed and a chorus of contradictory ‘yes’ and ‘no’ replies come back from the audience, showing they’ve grasped the issue and taken  positions. Then it’s on with some laughs and mime action to keep things light.

It’s good that the light tone is maintained, because the circumstances in which the main character’s friend died are dark.

Writer Daniel Bye spent a year as philosopher-in-residence at Pelham Primary, not far from the Polka, and the discussions on these issues during that year underpin the show. 

You can see it’s more of an educational project rather than a pure piece of theatre. But it absolutely succeeds in getting children to grapple with some difficult, stretching, questions in a way that keeps them giggling but doesn’t dodge sadness.

  • Error 404 runs to March 29. Tickets £11.50. Concessions £9. No under-8s admitted.

March 8, 2015

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Error 404 at Polka Theatre