The third episode of Talking Gods from Arrows & Traps Theatre, tells the story of Pygmalion. Written and directed by Ross McGregor, this is a modern retelling of the story of a man who falls in love with his own creation.
Pygmalion (Edward Spence) is a reclusive, award-winning game designer, who spends most of his time with Ratbag (Richard Baker), his sentient but virtual assistant. Editing his latest game, it quickly becomes clear that he is a perfectionist. Many people do reach out to him, including numerous nymphs sending over dating profiles and his mother trying to establish regular contact, but Pygmalion is determined to avoid any difficult conversations or conflict, and so responds by deleting the many messages he is left and ignoring news broadcasts.
He does watch old videos showing his relationship with Emily (Gabrielle Nellis-Pain), but it quickly becomes clear that she is no longer part of his life. His mother’s messages become increasingly tense as it becomes clear he is missing doctor’s appointments, but he is able to ignore this when he is thrown into a new project for Aphrodite (Benjamin Garrison), Goddess of love. Aphrodite’s son is getting married and, being a God rather than a measly mortal, he has played all of the games on Earth, so Aphrodite wants Pygmalion to custom-design a new game just for him, in only a month.
Pointing out that this deadline is very tight, Pygmalion soon fears for his life after Aphrodite promises all kinds of punishment if he doesn’t deliver. Panicking, Pygmalion returns home and unleashes all of his stress onto Ratbag as he rushes to put the game together. Unfortunately, towards the end of the month, something goes wrong with the coding and a self-aware character, Galatea (Nellis-Pain) suddenly appears in the game. At first Pygmalion assumes she’s just a bug, but as his efforts to remove her fail and she appears across all of his systems, he worries she is a virus. Discovering the only way to remove her is to complete the game, Pygmalion and Galatea set out on the quest.
Galatea immensely enjoys herself and her new found life, and quickly starts taking scenic routes and enjoying the diversions Pygmalion has built into the world. Pygmalion however has a deadline, of course, so wants to skip over the content and get to the end-level as quickly as possible. But Galatea’s enthusiasm is contagious, and Pygmalion soon finds himself enjoying the game for its own sake.
Spence’s performance is excellent as the highly-strung and impatient Pygmalion. Wearing a faded hooded and constantly drinking energy drinks, he keeps up the level of tension throughout the piece. Quickly switching emotions, he is very believable and the pace created is exceptional.
Constant interference in the footage throughout the piece contrasts well with the high-tech environment Pygmalion is living in and shows us throughout that something is not quite right. It is clear from the outset that tragedy has occurred but the ending of the show is still surprising and creates a mesmerising conclusion to this heart-breaking piece of online theatre.
The chemistry between Spence and both Nellis-Pain and Baker is excellent, and neither of the AI characters come across as artificial or unemotional at any time, which reinforces the relationship elements of the story, both romantic and otherwise.
We don’t see the game, only Spence’s reaction to it, accompanied by Nellis-Pain’s narration of the action. This allows your imagination to create the detailed and beautiful world Spence has put together, which makes the piece feel immersive, even though you only really see Pygmalion himself.
This gripping and moving piece of theatre feels quite different to the two earlier episodes, but pulls you into Pygmalion’s small world and invites you to join him on his enchanting quest to join Theseus on his journey to take his rightful place in the world, via a labyrinth and fight with a Minotaur. Painfully tragic, as you get to know Pygmalion and everything that has brought him to where he is today, it becomes easy to see how it is preferable to lose yourself in a virtual world rather than depend on the people around you, but also how important it is to appreciate each moment that we have away from a screen.
Talking Gods III: Pygmalion is available to watch here https://www.arrowsandtraps.com/talkinggods
Reviewer: Donna M Day
Reviewed: 7th April 2021
North West End UK Rating: ★★★★★