Edinburgh Fringe Review: Solo Date @ Assembly George Square Studios
If you could bring your dead lover back to life, would you? Surely that’s an offer no one could refuse. But what if it was a version of your lover, an almost-exact replica, but not quite the real deal? What if you could bring them back using artificial intelligence? What then?
Solo Date takes this thought experiment and runs with it, into compelling, humorous and unexpected places. Ho-Nien, after learning his boyfriend has died in a plane crash, orders an AI personal assistant crammed to the brim with his late partner’s voice, image, memories and personality traits. But what of the secrets between the couple? The grieving attempt to reconstruct his lover leads Ho-Nien down into a spiral of information and emotion, at the heart of which are two resounding questions: how much can we ever know the one’s we love, and what is love anyway? Full understanding of the story, and of the show’s ambitious scope regarding its central themes, are only revealed in the final moments, as a clever twist shifts the plot into new, unforeseen territory.
As the audience enters, Ho-Nien (Tsai Pao-Chang) sits blindfolded centre stage, apparently contained within a box of gauze. This gauze is where much of the action takes place – it becomes a shimmering screen, across which projections glide. Each new scene is introduced by name in bright white, floating text, giving the impression of a graphic novel come to life on stage.
In many shows, attempts to combine live action with multimedia feel forced. All too often the media seems uneasily tacked on; intended to add flare to a performance, it frequently instead distracts or actively detracts from the piece. This is certainly not the case in Solo Date. Here the projections not only flow seamlessly, shifting from iridescent electronic rain effects to gay internet chat-rooms without any uncomfortable jolt, but are integral to the piece. The interaction between Ho-Nien inside his box and the huge faces looming over him on the screen is no gimmick, but an ingenious and necessary technique to communicate this near-future world. Appearing small and fragile in comparison to the all-knowing AI holograms, Ho-Nien seems trapped – a pet inside a cage he himself has built. Visually stunning, intellectually and emotionally challenging, and funny; this piece cuts to the heart of contemporary concerns, and provides a radically new dimension to the timeless theme of love