Review: ARTIFICIALLY YOURS, Riverside Studios

Warm and winning comedy centred on the Alexa from hell

By: Apr. 12, 2024
Review: ARTIFICIALLY YOURS, Riverside Studios
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Review: ARTIFICIALLY YOURS, Riverside Studios You can almost picture a scene in a noisy Starbucks. 

“This AI stuff is a hot button topic. Maybe we should do something on that? Anyone up for it?” 

“Yeah, I’ll do it”.

And, a pitch and a funding application or two later, a worthy, State Of The Nation play thuds on to the stage to make its clunky points and to hell with the mere details of plot, characterisation and drama.

Well Aaron Thakar’s dark comedy may possibly have shared some of that genesis, but none of those outcomes. His debut play (at just 21 years old) is an accomplished, smart, occasionally terrifying fusion of old-school relationship problems and brand new hi-tech solutions. If Mark Kermode’s “Six Laughs Test” holds for theatre as it does for cinema, then Thakar has passed his first exam as a playwright with a grade A!

Review: ARTIFICIALLY YOURS, Riverside Studios

Agapé (voiced with sinister authority by Katherine Moran), will be familiar for anyone who has her cousin, Alexa, in their home. A glowing, stubby cylinder, it listens to couples as they canoodle, cook and complain, learning all the time and then offers advice like a permanently on-call, interventionist therapist with just a hint of passive aggression bubbling beneath those soothing vowels. It’s so very plausible - though a version of it might not be given house room by anyone who has seen this show!

On press night, the cast took a little time to settle, but hit their stride with the looseness and interplay comedy demands, one of many reasons why it’s so hard to get right. The first couple we meet after an eerie, hilarious scene-setting video of an Agapé advert, are middle-aged, divorced and jousting over whether he (Paul Giddings) can introduce their teenage daughter to his new, inevitably younger, girlfriend. Leslie Ash plays the wife, Pippa, dealing, one more time, with a man behaving badly. To be fair, not that badly, and their narrative arc, after a slowish start, brings a little reconciliation to the sofa before the end.

The sofa, centre-stage a pew on which to worship the machine, gets a lot of work from director, Hannah McLeod, as the two younger couples circle each other and the ever-present, ever-learning squatting source of advice does its thing. 

Lilah (Destiny Mayers) is an up and coming journalist whose talent is almost as far-reaching as her ambition, an alpha-female with a beta-male boyfriend, Ash (played by the playwright), a low energy jobbing actor who inexorably comes to prefer the company of Agapé to that of Lilah. We all know a Lilah and Ash. There's a telling nod to his profession's challenge to AI slipped into a script unafraid to go deep if it has to. 

The funniest of the dysfunctional trios comprises Lilah’s less-talented, envious work colleague, Ellie (Ella Jarvis) and her Nice-But-Dim himbo of a bf, Noah (Jake Mavis). Sure they get most of the slapstick and the exaggeration (there’s a dinner party from hell executed beautifully), but both are excellent, Mavis especially hitting that sweet spot between klutzy endearment and irritating foolishness. Like Mayers, also on debut, his comic timing and rapport with the audience suggest there’s a bright future ahead on stage.

Ah, the future? With a younger generation blithely embracing ChatGPT and Google Gemini and an older generation more wary, but probably not realising how much AI is already sitting behind its cars and home conveniences, who knows what the next ten years will bring? I certainly recall dismissing social media as a fad - until I tried it. While most of the public debate about AI concerning Doomsday scenarios of millions of jobs lost or a Skynet style armageddon, it’s lovely to see so Zeitgeisty a topic at the heart of a comedy that never loses sight of the primary function of such a show.

“Alexa - where can I get plenty of laughs in a London theatre this week?”

“Good morning Gary. Try the Riverside Studios, Hammersmith”.

You might want to too.

Artificially Yours is at the Riverside Studios until 21 April

Photo Credits: Andrew Fosker


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