REVIEW: Neural Notwerks 2: harder beta faster stronger

“Two horses instantly die in head-on collision for drunk-driving advert”


In Neural Notwerks 2, the Corpus Playroom was transformed into a dadaist extravaganza by a computer which spent most of its time generating poetry. The play, born of the mad ravings of CompScis and Art students, showed what happens if different species try to breed: it does not make any sense at all and the result is strange – almost scary – but is nonetheless highly enjoyable.

Photo credits: Aron Penczu

The set design was comprised entirely of a single gently buzzing printer in the corner, which provided the actors with never-ending irrational scripts to perform. Imagine the stories and news a computer could generate after extracting all the plot synopses on Wikipedia, and downloading all of the Daily Mail headlines ever printed. The surrealism on display here would surprise even Buñuel and Dalí; and the randomly generated postmodern essays painfully reminded me of some of my Art Theory exam efforts.

However, the fun didn't come only from the nonsense texts but also from the cast themselves, who breathed some hilarity into the bizarre scripts. Their brilliant half-improvised performances were essential in making the stories halfway comprehensible.

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Ben H Martineau, Eduardo Strike and Ted Mackey; Photo credits: Aron Penczu

Alice Tyrrell played a TV presenter reading out the news, delivering headlines such as "Naomi Campbell changes career path to play in the Champions League". Eduardo Strike and Sophie Atherton played a couple stuck in a long and painful marriage as they tried to decipher what the computer made love out to be. I can only hope that what the computer learned about love from its dictionaries was wrong, because the result was rather discouraging.

It was amazing how many genres could be touched upon within an hour. Introducing some interactivity into the performance, the cast invited an audience member to play Brianna, the heroine of a fictitious video game who gets attacked by orcs and goblins, while some wonderfully irritating game-music was improvised on a keyboard.

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Eduardo Strike and Ben H Martineau; Photo credits: Aron Penczu

The most dynamic sketch was one in which a producer auditioned scriptwriters coming up with Wikipedia-based plot lines. The actors' quick-fire film ideas such as "the documentary is an intimate look into the lives of the grown-up children who each have their own bedrooms. There is also a nuclear arsenal ready to be deployed" were delivered extremely well.

Undoubtedly though, the highlight of the show was the philosophers' rap battle between Nietzsche and Kant lead by Plato. It was a masterpiece, and it could easily have taken place at a particularly wild pub crawl after a philosophy masterclass.

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Ted Mackey and Eduardo Strike; Photo credits: Aron Penczu

Since the alpha and omega of the computer generated poetry was Shakespeare, we could not avoid enjoying a few Fakespearian sonnets either:

"Nay, pray you now

Tell me of corn! This was my master, your brother

Thanks, good my lord, but the attempt I vow

Y'have said, sir. How shall I know of thee?

Believe me, I can not do it

It is; and I pray you

Hie thee again. I have a pretty wit

O slaves, I can tell what thou wouldst do

Nay, if I had said and done

The gods protect you, And then I came away

So, sir. Know you such a one

I will, coz, and my lord I must obey

Very well, my lord, and grant it, then

Ay, to be a plague to men."

This is a friendly, laid-back show spiced with great actors, where nothing is serious and the performers evidently love what they do.

5/5