Saturday, May 25

Artificially Yours – Riverside Studios

You can’t escape talk about AI these days. Whether it’s dubious photo editing or a dodgy script in an ill-fated Willy Wonka experience, this tech has well and truly permeated our collective consciousness, so it comes as no surprise that it’s starting to be explored through theatre.

Enter: Aaron Thakar’s Artificially Yours, playing its first-ever run at Riverside Studios until 21st April. The play revolves around the domestic lives of three couples: Pippa and Martin (Leslie Ash and Paul Giddings), Lilah and Ash (Destiny Mayers and Aaron Thakar), and Ellie and Noah (Ella Jarvis and Jake Mavis) — all of whom have welcomed Agapē, the AI-powered virtual relationship therapist, into their homes.

Each couple navigates various disputes that one person in the relationship believes can be resolved with Agapē’s help. Divorced co-parents Pippa and Martin are battling over whether or not Martin should introduce their daughter to his new (much younger) girlfriend. Lilah and Ash, while seemingly the most secure of the couples, are dealing with underlying tension and insecurities over their jobs. Meanwhile, new lovebirds Ellie and Noah are trying to work through the latter’s porn-watching habits and glaring incompatibility.

These domestic squabbles provide a solid foundation for the drama to build upon, but I sadly found the core message about the use of AI too underdeveloped for the action to really take off.

Photo: Andrew Fosker

While I understood what Thakar was trying to convey about AI — that it’s no substitute for meaningful communication and can never truly develop an understanding of humanity — ironically, the AI device didn’t actually play that significant of a role in the drama or comedy. Agapē’s occasional interjections did provide some laughs, but it felt underutilised and tagged onto the piece rather than sitting at the core of its conflicts.

In fact, the dynamics between the three couples were actually interesting enough that it could have made a shorter, stronger domestic sitcom without using the AI device at all.

Featuring the couples predominantly in unconnected and separate vignettes stifled the pace of Artificially Yours, with the clear standout scene being a disastrous double date between Lilah, Ash, Ellie, and Noah. Highlighting the jealousies and insecurities between these characters resulted in some really funny moments and engaging dramatic tension that was lacking in some of the other scenes.

Alongside the somewhat flimsy central theme, there were too many layers to each of the characters that went underdeveloped, such as Pippa’s undisclosed illness and Lilah and Ellie’s love-hate relationship. The characters were backed up by strong performances from all of the cast, but the play tried to squeeze in too many plot points for any of them to be fully compelling.

As far as star performances went, major kudos must be given to Jake Mavis, whose golden retriever-like energy made Noah a character you couldn’t help but root for, providing the biggest laughs of the evening. I couldn’t believe it when I saw in the programme that this was his theatre debut — with his unboundless charisma and effortless comic timing, I sense he’s got a very bright future ahead of him.

It must be noted that this is Thakar’s debut as a playwright. Aged just 21, it’s clear that he’s brimming with ambitious ideas and a comedic spark, and I hope to get to see his next piece of work on stage. Artificially Yoursis a promising debut with glimmers of greatness, but a thin overarching concept and muddled plot prevent it from truly shining in its current iteration.

Reviewer: Olivia Cox

Reviewed: 11th April 2024

North West End UK Rating:

Rating: 2 out of 5.