Sunday, 2 December 2012

DEFRAG_ - review

Camden People’s Theatre, London

Apocalyptic scenarios incorporating computers and artificial intelligence are hardly new ground to be explored in fiction. It's a sci-fi sub-genre saturated by a plethora of dystopian visions, so surely nothing fresh could surface in this theme? Wrong. DEFRAG_ not so much re-imagines the genre, it’s rather a complete system reboot with a software overhaul of dry wit and compelling showmanship. This is quintessential fringe theatre, inventive and original to the core, or in this case, the CPU.

Part of Camden People’s Theatre’s Futureshock festival, DEFRAG_ is a one man show written, co-directed, and performed by Tom Lyall, his debut show in a solo capacity. Short for ‘Defragmentation’, a computer process that organises files for speedier recovery, it tells the story of a man who, driven by the desire to record his life, backs himself up on an online digital archive, only to be ‘rebooted’ after the collapse of civilisation. The play is split into two very distinctive sections, the first comprising of Lyall’s character discussing with the audience aspects of his life, computers, the distinction between the workings of a human brain and computers. What is in danger of being a technologically heavy and dreary lecture is carried off wonderfully by Lyall who draws in the audience with a dryness and eloquence that is a delight to behold. The only issue with this first section is that despite Lyall’s charm and wit, with the lack of variation it does begin to drag. Luckily before any real disinterest sets in the whole performance is turned on its head.
The second half is where the real creativity of the piece takes hold; a fourth wall is instated, and we see Lyall’s character post apocalypse, or rather we see him being ‘defragged’, secluded in a mysterious room with only a synthesised female voice for company. What ensues is funny, touching, and hugely engaging as Lyall’s defragmentation takes place and he builds a relationship of sorts with the computer that calibrates itself to his “deadpan, facetious, and confrontational” personality. It’s a wonderfully slick piece of theatre; the conversations between Lyall and the sound cues are entirely convincing and effective, particularly in creating drama around one out of place cardboard box (I won’t spoil the surprise of it’s contents).

Lyall’s performance is complemented by an understated set and some fantastic lighting design by Cis O’Boyle, who deserves a special commendation for the sublime ending, which considering the dry tone of the play is incredibly powerful.  The bar for the remaining shows of the Futureshock festival has been set very high indeed and if Camden People’s Theatre maintains this standard for the duration, then it is sure to have a very successful few months ahead.

This production runs until 15 December 2012
@CamdenPT @tom_lyall #DEFRAG_  #Futureshock

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I'm a theatre goer and an occasional visitor to What's Peen Seen? I've never felt compelled to comment on a review before but this review has worked for me. I normally steer clear of Sci-Fi theatre after I wasted an evening of my life on a play of the genre some years ago that was absolutley dire. I'm always looking for new areas of interest though and believe that this show might fit the bill. I'll be heading off to see it this weekend and only hope that I enjoy it as much as the reviewer. Watch this space!