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  • Henry Longstaff

Artificially Yours - Riverside Studios

A promising debut hindered by bugs

Artificially Yours - Riverside Studios
Photograhy - Andrew Fosker


AI is the buzzword right now, with tech companies across the globe opting to tether their products to some form of artificial intelligence so it is not unrealistic to imagine an in-home virtual assistant tasked with unpicking and fixing the minor squabbles and major disagreements in our relationships. This is what Aaron Thakar has centred his debut play around. Can this faceless entity improve our relationships or is it destined to fail or evolve into something more sinister?

Examining three couples, Thakar’s play sees Pippa (Leslie Ash) & Martin (Paul Giddings), Ellie (Ella Jarvis) & Noah (Jake Mavis) and finally, Lilah (Destiny Mayers) & Ash (Aaron Thakar) live in their varying relationships. Pippa and Martin are divorced but still harbour a connection to one another, him often popping round, both trying to move on but something keeps drawing them back together. Ellie and Noah butt heads as they seek common ground in their relationship, Noah a keen runner and Ellie struggling for recognition at work, jealous of her colleague Lilah. Ash and Lilah care for one another but are unsure how to share responsibilities and self-esteem when one is significantly more successful than the other. Periodically (and inconsistently) each couple is interrupted by their in-home AI called Agape who prompts them to do certain things to disarm potential confrontations, offering advice or evening sharing if a person is telling the truth.

First off there is a lot of promise in this production. The script is ambitious in its vision, attempting to dissect a very possible future and able to find the humour in the bizarre circumstances too. But this play is sorely undercooked, at its worst when the dialogue is unnatural, feeling like a poor impersonation of an episode of Black Mirror with bold ideas propped up by weak structure and plot. The direction undermines much of the vision of the piece, the decision to target a caricature approach for the delivery at odds with the tone of the script, the play therefore unable to settle as one or the other, awkwardly stuck between the two. The script and the direction occasionally do align, however, excelling notably in the dinner party scenes where Ellie and Noah invite Lila and Ash round for a Mexican night. Here the one-upmanship strays into farce and the result is very funny before the evening takes a darker turn.

Jake Mavis has the stand-out performance as Noah, incredibly funny in his blind and benign actions that aggravate those around him. He manages to navigate a more solemn transition as the piece concludes which sparks a genuine moving moment between himself and Ellie. Many of the other performances are strong and well managed though several stray out of believability, the acting not convincing enough. Leslie Ash, for example, cast as the face of the show does not go far enough for me, her performance out of step with the rest of the cast, somewhat disappointing.

There is little to talk to regarding the set and design of the production, the sparse set existing of a few units of living room furniture is not worth writing home about and the lighting is functional but uninspired. The play opens with a comedic advert for the Agape product, surely inspired in part by the Saturday Night Live skits that poke fun at the overly cheerful lifestyle ads. This touch sets the context of the show nicely, helping us to understand the little device these couples have brought into their homes.

Though bursting with interesting ideas this production needs time to refocus on what it is trying to say. There are too many trains of thought arriving at the same station and the script is unable to manage the themes and plot in a competent enough way to manage them as yet. For a debut script, however, it is exciting and I hope lessons can be learnt ahead of the next one.

Running until 21st April - Tickets

Photography - Andrew Fosker

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