Toasterlab’s Aionos is a mixed reality, experimental performance, which promises to blend Ancient Egyptian history with the fantasy, sci-fi fairy tale world of Star Wars. The production hopes to appeal to gamers, fans of online gaming streams, and anyone curious about theatre and/or Ancient Egypt by combining elements of all these things. It’s an exciting and brilliant concept, but also a lot to handle. There are three ways to view the show: in person, via livestream or using a virtual reality (VR) headset. This review was written based on the online stream.
The show was produced based on a concept by Debbie Deer Productions in consultation with multi-disciplinary theatre practitioner, Ari Tarr. The piece opens with Anubis, God of Death (Shaharah Gaznabbi) introducing their livestream show where a journey to the Underworld is presented in real time. Today’s show is covering Dahlia Adel’s passing and her consequential encounter with the Trials of Arru and is presented by Anubis in conjunction with Thoth (Dave Harack) who gives details of Dahlia Adel’s life. Unfortunately, Anubis’ father, Set, God of Chaos (Milton Lopez Marhemberg) considers that the show has gotten boring and unless things can be spiced up with the younger, livelier journeys into the Underworld, Anubis will be replaced with an Artificial Intelligence (AI) presence.
The production has potential to explore a lot of interesting themes including jobs being lost to the AI industry, our obsession with views and likes, and our fascination with death and what lies beyond. Unfortunately, much more effort has been put into the experimental presentation of the piece, meaning that most of the investigation into the themes remains very much at surface level and doesn’t make any unique observations. Equally, there could be far more in the way of character development. The Gods merely introduce themselves and declare what their responsibilities are, with these descriptions being simplified. Hatshepsut (Aisha Lesley Bentham), a fascinating female Pharoah, again makes no real comment beyond her being a woman who ruled and built temples, and her now being stuck in purgatory after death. Due to the limited examination of both themes and character, the show is very much focussed on the techniques used to present it, rather than the story being told.
Overall, the quality of the presentation is very good. The graphics of the virtual world are simple, but these are notoriously difficult to make, particularly with limited budgets associated with Fringe productions, and the exquisite detail of the immersive world which is presented via VR is clear. The stream is shown on split screens with the live presentation shown alongside the VR, which adds the interesting commentary from Anubis and Thoth “in the studio”.
The cast in the studio are clearly miked up, and need to be careful as some interference was caused by hands being close to mics causing scratchy noises and other distractions. It would also have been nice to see some level of costume as all the Gods are distinctly human, rather than the animal forms associated with their Ancient Egyptian counterparts. While it would not be necessary to be in full costume to do the show justice, hints of their non-human forms might have been a nice touch to give the presentation elements of the show more vibrancy.
There is some audience participation with the live audience and some improv takes place around this. This creates some nice opportunity for humour which lighten the darker elements of the themes and give the show an irreverent feeling overall. This is enhanced by the use of GIFs in the VR world, whose familiarity in contemporary humour create some funny moments.
Aionos is an interesting and unique piece of theatre which tries to do a lot in the short fifty minutes it runs over and could achieve great things with further development. The concept of combining VR and live theatre is excellent and provides a way of involving audiences on an international basis as well as being able to work with an international cast and crew. Fascinating as a new way of presenting creative work, there is a lot of potential for Aionos to change the way we think about the performing arts.
Aionos is being performed at and streamed by Edinburgh Fringe until 27th August 2023. Tickets are available here https://tickets.edfringe.com/whats-on/aionos for the in person showing and here https://tickets.edfringe.com/whats-on/aionos-1 for the online stream
Reviewer: Donna M Day
Reviewed: 8th August 2023
North West End UK Rating: