We chatted to the playwright about taking his new play Autopilot to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.

Hi Ben, how does it feel to be finally be able to take Autopilot to the Edinburgh festival? Hi. It feels amazing, and very overdue! I’ve been wanting to take Autopilot to the Edinburgh Fringe
for years, and that’s before the pandemic reared its head. Now it feels extra special – to be going to a festival that I love after a two year hiatus, with a play that I’m proud of and I’ve been hoping will see the light of day for a long time. It’s very exciting indeed.

Could you give us an idea of what the play is about? The play is about love and the notion of having to choose; between yourself and someone else; between the truth and a story that suits you. It’s about class and money and power and privilege and lots of other eggy things that feel increasingly (conveniently) topical, among my generation in particular.

How did the idea for the play come about? I was inspired by the ‘trolley problem’ at the heart of self-driving car design, after reading an article in TIME magazine in 2017. When there is definitely going to be a collision of some kind, the car has to make a decision about who to kill and who to save – the people inside the car, or the people outside it. Wrapped up in this is everything the play is concerned with. Questions of selfishness/selflessness, morals, and capitalism. The car ought to make whatever decision saves the most lives possible (right?), but perhaps it will save whoever’s inside it, regardless of the collateral consequences, simply because they bought it.

What would you say makes the Edinburgh Festival so special? It’s the biggest arts festival in the world and it truly feels like the world is there. You have shows from across the globe, all sorts of stories in all sorts of forms in all sorts of venues at every conceivable time of day and in every conceivable type of weather. You get performers at every stage of their career, from established names to people stepping on stage for the first time in their lives, or trying things out that they’ve never done before. That is such a beautiful mixture of energies to inhabit. I always leave exhausted and overwhelmed but hugely inspired. I’ve no idea what this year will look and feel like after the enforced break, and with covid sadly still very much around, but I’m excited to find out.

How has it been for you to see Autopilot leaping from the page to the stage?  Ask me on the 3rd August! I’m delighted it’s happening, it just won’t feel real ‘til it has an audience. That’s what theatre is for, for that moment of meeting, for that exchange. I can’t wait.

By Emma Clarendon

Autopilot will play at the Pleasance Courtyard (Forth), 1.35pm, 3rd-29th August (not 15).