Sunday, 20 August 2017

EDINBURGH FRINGE REVIEW: Transmission at the Assembly George Square Studios

Carrying the deceptive promise of an immersive theatrical experience, Transmission could be one of the most criticised pieces of new writing at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2017. Canadian company Toasterlab's ambitious project includes live installations, 16 podcast episodes and 29 augmented reality scenes set in various locations around Edinburgh.

Upon arrival at the Assembly George Square Studio Five, the audience is repeatedly invited to download an app, which can only function with Apple devices. The alternative intercache version for Android is wobbly and relies on the audience's willingness to use a good chunk of their phone's data allowance.

Time economy is also a precious factor during a festival that offers more than 3500 different shows and, for someone who spends just a week in Edinburgh, there isn't enough time for all the features proposed. Contacting the ticket holders in advance and suggesting them to become familiar with the extras beforehand, would give them a better chance to make the most of the elaborate virtual background.

Technological aspects aside, – which felt entirely superfluous to my enjoyment of the show – Transmission takes an original approach to the migrant crisis and, despite its geeky and abstract appearance, the topic is timely and rather concrete.

Audience members get briefed by Commander Leila Karam (Leila Ghaznavi), her sister Zada (Aizzah Fatima) and Dr. Joel Horton (David Glista) on their imminent departure towards the planet Luxtaterra, where scientists have discovered the existence of communicating alien creatures. On board of the spaceship Saena, the crew will travel for over 80 years, in an attempt to establish first contact with the Luxtaterran. 

Pointing out that those who depart won't live long enough to see the outcome of the mission, Commander Karam praises the courage of the audience for choosing to take part. Leaving the safety of their homes to undertake a dangerous and uncertain journey, they're making a huge but necessary sacrifice to provide a better future to the next generation. The comparison with the Syrian exodus is made clear and, at this point, the play starts making sense. 

Transmission feels like a lecture – due partly to the layout of the studio, which normally serves as a lecture room – and the actors' lifeless performance fails to connect with the audience. The comments I heard on my way out reflected an understandable disappointment for the lack of immersion.

The creative team should prioritise the essential elements of the play and be more realistic about all the accessory features that gravitate around this innovative but muddled concept.

Review by Marianna Meloni

Rating: ★★★
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