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I am Google
Published on Wednesday, 10 August 2011

4 stars

Laughing Horse @ Espionage (venue website)
5-10, 12-17, 19-24, 26-28 Aug, 12:00pm-12:50pm
Reviewed by Kirsty Leckie-Palmer

 Recommended for age 18+ only. Venue may not permit under-18's - check with venue before booking.

Has it ever occurred to you that your search engine might be a real person, with feelings and a sense of morality, spending all day toiling in pursuit of your every whim? It hadn’t occurred to me either. Fortunately Craig Ricci Shaynak is crazy enough to actualise such an inventive concept with his joyously playful show I am Google.

Transforming a corner of the Kasbar Room in Espionage into a cramped bachelor flat with little more than a hectic assortment of books, videotapes and cassettes, I am Google follows the everyday life of a personified search engine who has recently experienced a difficult break up with his girlfriend, Twitter, and introduces us to his contemporaries – Bing, FaceBook and Yahoo.

Shaynak delivers a self-effacing performance from the outset, and it’s surprisingly fun to empathise with a human Google. He sets the tone for the show, and, more importantly, draws our attention to his stupendous gut by opening with a jiggling, rippling dance which is so agonising to watch, it’s genuinely hilarious. We then watch as Google answers query after query, usually pointless, often upsetting, sometimes destructive. He takes some time to explain the amusing practicalities of everything from porn searches to what the Pope gets up to online (I’d like to point out the arbitrary nature of these two examples).

As the act progresses, it becomes clear Shaynak is making an intriguing point about technology. Detaching things like hash checks and email from their immediate context, and dumping them in the middle of a Fringe audience, is where the show is particularly strong. On asking an audience member to read out a piece of scrambled text, Google deduces he must be a ‘bot’ and proceeds to search him, producing a tin of Spam. It would be great to see more of our virtual world brought into everyday events in order to ridicule it – so many of us spend our lives at the behest of smartphones and laptops.

His other characters – Bing, Facebook and Twitter, for example – are quickly sketched caricatures, which rely on stereotype and silly props. They dented my ability to suspend disbelief a little. It is a purposefully silly show, but such slapdash characterization hindered my appreciation of some of the more serious points the act tries to explore, and stood in stark contrast to the quite sensitively sketched Google. A better balance might be achieved with just a sprinkling of subtlety and the deftness these characters lack. (I’d like to make an exception for IMDB. IMDB was hilarious.) At one point, there was a touch of risky improvisation. Shaynak handled it well, and given the programme’s description of the show: ‘get quick answers to your questions in 40 languages!’, I’m a little disappointed there wasn’t more opportunity for the audience to Google stuff.

I am Google is undoubtedly an asset to the festival. It wholly deserves a following, and if developed just a little further it could transform its geek-niche allure into something really insightful. As a free act especially, it’s a well-conceived delight that tries to make a point. The show is at its most entertaining when observing the discrepancies between virtual and actual reality. We are all addicted to, and at times overwhelmed by technology. The question asked by I am Google is a straightforward one – why can’t we just walk away from it, once in a while?

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