Sunday, May 21, 2023

Ada and the Engine in the Blue Mountains

Daniel Aldrich

On Friday I attended a performance of Lauren Gundersons play "Ada and the Engine" (first performed in 2015 as "Ada and the Memory Engine"). This was by the Glenbrook Players, in the Blue Mountains behind Sydney. Normally I would write of a play in my other blog, Net Traveller. Previous plays I have seen on similar themes have been "True Logic of the Future" (Boho, 2010), and  Arcadia (Stoppard). But Gunderson covers far more ground about the development of the computer, issues of the role of women in STEM, funding of new technology, government tech policy, pure versus applied policy, and much else I write about in Higher Education Whisperer. In fact at times the play seems more an academic lecture, than an entertainment.

The pay is in two halves, the first about Ada Byron, at 18 years, a brilliant mathematician suffering under the burden of society's expectations of an upper class young woman, and the scandal from her famous dead father, Lord Byron. Ada meets Charles Babbage, then at the height of his success, having received government funding to build a mechanical calculator, the "difference engine".  The second half of the play depicts the end of Ada's tragically short life, with her collaboration with Babbage breaking down.

Sets and costumes were good, with subtle use of background projection (some set designers can tend to overdo the background projection). All the cast gave good performances, of what is perhaps an overly wordy play. The actor playing Ada (I can't find the program, so don't know who as who), was a little old for the first half, but just right for the second. Babbage looked and behaved just like some of my academic acquaintances, frustrated the government will not fund their pipe dreams. Lord Lovelace, Ada's husband was the suitably stiff, English nobleman, the script demanded (but Lovelace was well educated, and a noted engineer).

The play was permed at the Glenbrook Cinema, an old fashioned picture palace, which also puts on live performances. The adjacent Glenbrook School of Arts hall, featured a display of women of science in history. Some of these featured in the play, with some Australians added. Given the play's theme, it was surprising that Admiral Hopper did not feature in the display.

This play would obviously be a good topic for school, and university studnts to study and perform. As a dramatic work, it is a bit long and expositional. 

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