Eugene

11/08/21

Pleasance Courtyard, Cabaret Bar, Edinburgh

The Edinburgh Fringe thrives on good ideas and there’s a great one one at the heart of Eugene.

Set in the not-too-distant future, this show takes the form of a presentation by ‘Hugh'(Daniel Nicholas), the CEO of Hubris Industries. (Think of the grandiose, over-sincere product launches that Apple are so fond of and you’ll get the general idea.) Hugh is here to present his new invention, Eugene. The titular star of the show is the world’s first superhuman Artificial Intelligence and is represented by a glowing cube on a rostrum. Hugh assures us it’s capable of controlling the entire planet’s electricity supply, whilst simultaneously solving climate change. In his pocket, Hugh has the three er… floppy disks needed to make all that happen.

Hugh is blissfully unaware that Eugene has already introduced itself to the audience, using lines of text on a big screen – and also on our mobile phones, via an app called The Difference Engine. Thus it’s established from the outset that Eugene is a mischievous character with a mind of its own and a propensity for telling us more about its creator than he would like us to know.

Then out strides Hugh to present his TED talk. Hugh is a delightfully monstrous creation: smarmy, self-possessed and, not to put too fine a point on it, is so up himself he’s lost all sense of proportion. His every announcement is accompanied by an artless pose and an inane laugh, a kind of deathly chortle. As the presentation continues, more and more of Hugh’s darkest secrets come bubbling to the surface – and it’s evident that his plan to get Eugene up and running as quickly as possible is probably not going to end well.

On the day I view the show, there are a few glitches with the technology, which I think throw Nicholas off his stride a little – and the middle section consequently feels somewhat muddled. This is a shame, because the idea of combining integrated captioning with live action is something I haven’t seen before and there’s so much potential here, I’d like it to be developed even further – because the show is at its best when that pesky AI is inviting us to break all the rules.

Even with some gremlins in evidence, Eugene is an enjoyable way to spend an hour at the Fringe.

4 stars

Philip Caveney

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