Review: Eugene (Pleasance Courtyard)
Updated: Jun 1, 2022
Often sci-fi is at its most uncomfortable when it is set in the not too distant future; when the ideas and imagery we are presented with are recognisable and uncanny. Eugene has a cocky bespectacled man in a turtle neck sweater launching a life-changing product. That’s a good place to start. Written and performed by Daniel Nicholas, we meet Hugh, “the tech-billionaire with a God complex” and the inventor of Eugene – a supercomputer with the power to change life as we know it.
Eugene communicates via a TV screen, mocking Hugh, proving his extensive talents, and occasionally threatening to murder all of mankind. Our introduction to Eugene is long and the audience would be forgiven for thinking the entire show might consist of watching text on television. But when Hugh does appear, he fills the stage with his cocky mediocrity. He struts around with a Will Arnett quality of self-awareness that makes his character hilariously unlikable.
Sadly his performance is unable to sustain the momentum of the play, which loses focus at times. When the true purpose of Eugene is revealed, however, the tone shifts. It claims to solve the climate crisis, but at a price. It confronts the usual narrative of environmentalism to make audiences ask how far they would go to save the planet, and if we really have any choice. Rather than being faced with easy, actionable changes like using tote bags to do the groceries and switching to shampoo bars, this is a rare occasion when audiences are presented with the idea that the solution to the climate crisis could be uncomfortable, dangerous, even unethical.
This dilemma is the strongest angle of the show, but neither the script nor the plot gives it the development it deserves. Instead, the focus shifts back to Hugh, his family background, and a plot twist about who he really is. This personal narrative is less effective and doesn’t build on anything we have learnt thus far, and the performance ends on a fizzle rather than a bang.
(Photo Credit: Liam Keown)
But no matter, the aspect of the show that will leave the biggest impression is its use of technology. The audience are each asked to download an app on their smartphones that allows them to interact with Eugene. Through this app, we have the chance to vote and receive secret messages from Eugene when he doesn’t want Hugh to see. Unfortunately, this is something that still belongs in the not-too-distant future. It involved a lengthy set-up process and proved so unreliable Nicholas himself had to ask to look at an audience member’s smartphone when his stopped working.
Mishaps like this are rarely worth mentioning, but for a show where so much is dependent on technology, it is only worth doing if it is done well. Even with tech malfunctions taken out of the equation, Eugene is a mixed bag of strong ideas and missed opportunities. The final result is a show that is paradoxically both ahead of its time and behind it. Three stars.
Whispers from the Crowd:
Really imaginative but the use of technology needs more polish.
Because it is new, we weren't really sure what to do as an audience. It was fun though, I liked the character he created.