She's played a sorceress in The Witcher, a brothel madam in Ripper Street, and two real people caught up in Russian poisonings.

Now, stage and screen star MyAnna Buring takes on a grieving sister in Lauren Gunderson's new AI thriller at Hampstead Theatre. A decade after appearing at the Eton Avenue venue in The Wasp, she says "it feels like coming home".

"To come back to such an incredible place which embraces everyone who comes into the building with open arms, feels really personal and moving."

Part family drama, part mystery, Anthropology is a clever twist on Frankenstein, as griefstricken Silicon valley software engineer Merril (Buring) creates a digital simulation of the younger sister who vanished a year earlier.

But as she interacts with the AI version of her (presumed) dead sibling, details start to emerge about her disappearance.

Ham & High: MyAnna Buring as Marina Litvinenko in Lucy Prebble's A Very Expensive Poison.MyAnna Buring as Marina Litvinenko in Lucy Prebble's A Very Expensive Poison. (Image: Archant)

Gunderson is America's most produced playwright and already known to Hampstead audiences for her hit I & You starring Maisie Williams.

So it's a coup to stage the world premiere of her new play, with Skins actor Dakota Blue Richards as Merril's missing sister. Anthropology was underway well before the launch of ChatGPT, but comes at a moment when tech wizards are arguing over AI's threat to humanity.

But the playwright is more interested in exploring the tensions between new technology and its creators, and how it can be a means of understanding ourselves.Ham & High: Lauren Gunderson is America's most produced playwrightLauren Gunderson is America's most produced playwright (Image: Courtesy of Hampstead Theatre)

"Writers and creatives are always slightly ahead of the zetigeist," says Buring.

"I completely understand why her work is so produced. She's whip smart, burns brightly, and is incredibly kind. When I read the script, what struck me is 'here is someone with a fierce intelligence but a very open heart'. A play can become conceptual, an amazing intellect imagining wonderful things, but without an open heart we can't connect to the human emotions and relationships."

Anthropology says Buring, is "a moving, funny, family drama and an exciting thriller."

Ham & High: MyAnna played brothel madam Long Susan in Ripper StreetMyAnna played brothel madam Long Susan in Ripper Street

"It's like the story of Frankenstein but with data instead of body parts. Frankenstein's monster is built out of a traumatised person's need and it's very similar here. It's the idea that we don't always know what we want. With AI you have to be very specific about the questions you ask it. It might give you what you think you want, but do you actually want it? 

"To what extent are all the things that humans have ever created driven by the emotional landscapes and experiences of the people who built them? Just as you have to keep in mind when introducing it into the world, that everyone who uses your creation will have their own internal landscape."

Whether playing fantasy characters Tissaia de Vries in The Witcher or Tanya in The Twilight Saga, Edna the maid in Downton Abbey, or real people like novichok victim Dawn Sturgess in The Salisbury Poisonings, or Marina Litvinenko in Lucy Prebble's A Very Expensive Poison, the Swedish actor always starts with "the script, the script, the script."

Ham & High: MyAnna Buring's screen roles have ranged from Ripper Street and The Witcher to Downton Abbey and The Salisbury PoisoningsMyAnna Buring's screen roles have ranged from Ripper Street and The Witcher to Downton Abbey and The Salisbury Poisonings (Image: Hampstead Theatre)

"Pulling all the data from it, and asking from those facts, 'what's the most truthful emotional journey'?"

Merrill she says is "way cooler and smarter than I am".

"Her mind operates more quickly but I feel moved by her, we get to know the trauma that she's going through, and the mother, daughter and sister bonds that people can really relate to."

But playing a real person like Litvinenko, whose husband Alexander was a Russian dissident assassinated by polonium in 2006, "does add some dimension to how I feel about it".

"It's more heightened, I feel a sense of responsibility to the person who's alive or to their family."

"What shocked me was being reminded that it was almost forgotten. Marina spent 10 years fighting for a public enquiry, and now Dawn Sturgess' family are doing the same. It's hard to take in what hapened, that we had essentially chemical warfare weapons used on British soil. Once your eyes are open you become changed forever, you can't go back."

She spent five series donning uncomfortable Victorian corsets in the BBC's Ripper Street, and three seasons in the magical monster hunting world of The Witcher, but says modestly: "With those sort of jobs, the costume and set do 80 percent of the work for you, you just have to learn the lines."

Ham & High: MyAnna Buring (far right) with the cast of The Twilight Saga Breaking Dawn Part 2MyAnna Buring (far right) with the cast of The Twilight Saga Breaking Dawn Part 2 (Image: PA)

"It's extraordinary, it feels very immersive. But it's wonderful to be able to flit between those worlds and come back to theatre. The time we spend working on characters as actors is the time they put into the sets and creating the world. This is pure joy. I love doing something different, I feel excited and stretched and very lucky to get the opportunity. I hope I always get to do both because that would be my happy place."

Anthropology runs at Hampstead Theatre from September 7 until October 14.