Looking back on all the things we did for almost two years to help pass time during the COVID-19 lockdowns, it’s fair to say that as a global community we all went a little bit insane! I don’t know what it was about the ‘stay at home to save lives’ slogan but people around the world developed an obsessive passion for pub quizzes (which they had previously never expressed any interest in), fostered a habit of consuming obscene amounts of alcohol every couple of days and discovering a love of crafting together a wonderful array of fancy dress outfits although I fear the latter may have just been me! The move to online learning and communication meant that many of our day-to-day activities had to quickly be adapted to be delivered via an internet connection with the most unique experience for me personally was taking part in a series on online tap dancing lessons were the phrases “can you repeat that step as you cut out?” and “the internet delay made me out of time” becoming frequent utterances throughout. These brief sessions were enough to make us wonder about those who were forced to do online job interviews or even worse romantic dates!
One of the main ways we developed a structured routine when staying at home was the only thing we were allowed to do, was to focus on reviewing albums and soundtracks of new and emerging musical theatre from all over the worlds. This is how we were first introduced to the team working behind Jaxbanded theatre with their unique gig-infused recording of Sentimental (which you can read about at https://rhysreviews.com/2021/08/09/sentimental-recording-review/) which tells the story of ex-lovers who receive a mysterious text to meet up in the same pub. I was also lucky enough to sit down and chat with the creator of this new musical Oisín (available on my YouTube channel at https://youtu.be/gLB2KtAc6io) where we chatted about the show’s journey and how it came to be! In an almost inversion of the dating cycle, the last story from Jaxbanded theatre focus on two ex-lovers yet the brand new interactive online experience titled Aion instead focuses on a first date! The date is between two ‘people’ a guy called Aodhan (beautifully portrayed by Ruairi Nicoll) and the individual viewer of the experience. As the piece of theatre progresses the audience is given the opportunity to select an answer from a series of responses that change the journey of the show dependent on what was chosen. Due to the select your own journey style narrative, this is an experience that is much more suited to experience on a computer/laptop than a phone as the large screen naturally pulls the audience into the centre of the story which is fundamental purpose of these types of shows. When it comes to the pivotal decision-making process, I do think that the voting polls that come up should have been overplayed the zoom/Skype style video call as the transitions and new screens do make the overall experience quite truncated at times and simply having them as a natural pop up would have kept the audience submerged into the show for the whole duration!
I was lucky enough to avoid the craze of wanting to meet new people during the lockdown restrictions (as I preferred already established friends witnessing my regular breakdowns and fancy dress obsession) but I can only imagine the awkwardness of meeting someone not only for the first time but also through a computer screen. Ruairi Nicholl does a fantastic job of capturing the already extreme awkwardness of a first date which is only heightened through this zoom/Skype format. We see our lead character Aodhan go on wonderfully weird ramblings, deliver a unique musical performance, get emotional at the thought of a previous lover and show off how much effort he put into making sure the date felt romantic despite being in two very different physical locations. This date style structure allowed the writers of the online experience to logically and appropriately include the audience participation sections as they appeared in parts of the show where Aodhan had asked the supposed other person a question and the responses choices always made sense. I would say however there was one point in the story where the two ‘characters’ are playing a getting to know you card game and Aodhan share two cards with the audience member but some of each of the cards is cut off by the screen. While the options are clearly stated in the voting process, it would have been great to see the choices beforehand and would have been extra interesting if you could have simply clicked the screen to select an option. The other thing that I really enjoyed about the script of this show is that it was written gender-blind so that any audience member can feel totally included throughout. While this was done for a very specific reason (which we will discuss later), the inclusion meant that anyone would be drawn into the story. The script does include a large amount of strong language and drug-related references and so would mean it is intended for a more mature audience!
I believe that the main reason that the language in this play is written with no references to personal pronouns is due to the fact that the audience are in fact playing the role of a computer programme rather than a physical character. While I would not describe myself as a technophobe, I am not as up-to-date with modern technological advances so the discussion of AI did slightly go over my head I have to admit. While the concept of an external factor making decisions made sense from an experienced viewpoint (as in AI a computer chooses responses based on input and here the audience does exactly the same), I do have to admit it did fry my brain just a little. I personally thought that the idea of a practise date with a random practise date with strange would have been a lot easier to understand and still would have made sense narratively. The title of the show was also the name of the AI programme that is used by Aodhan for this ‘date’ which, I don’t know why but, always fills me with joy when a show or movie mentions its own name within the production.
Overall, Ruairi Nicholl delivered a uniquely yet purposefully awkward performance as the recipient of a practice date and we have made it clear numerous times how difficult one persons productions can be. There was no massive scene changes (apart from during the closing moments of the show), no ensemble supporters or flamboyant musical numbers and yet the audience is totally immersed into the narrative. While I thoughts that the technical elements could have done with some minor tweaks, the show did bring with it a strange sense of nostalgia from the two-year period we were forced to live through a computer screen. Due to its nature, this is not something I would experience with a large group (as only one person can participate and be drawn in) I do think that it showcases Rudiri and his dedication to character-based acting. I would rate this show 4 out of 5 stars!