#1 Intronauts

Theatre ( Puppetry, Multimedia ) Theatre, Jackson's Lane

Science fiction theatre about a young woman, a miniaturised body cleaner identified as an intronaut, who lives and works in the gut of a simple man in a technologically advanced future. Vignettes of a bodily fantasy world, the inner space, along multiple human dimensions. From Bristol shop Green Ginger.

Intronauts is visual storytelling told through live action and puppetry, accompanied by animations projected on a floor-to-ceiling gauze screen that spans the stage. The screen separates the audience from the actors and the action, but also adds a rare visualisation dimension — a literal 4th wall — of visualisations, user interfaces, and chat bubbles.

Conventional puppetry is mixed with live action to move the story forward at the human macro scale, the live action micro scale, and through inspired puppetry at a few layers in between. We are presented with a view into the isolated lives of both of the protagonists: the emphatically satirised graphic designer and his bodily servant, who traverses the length of him from organ to organ in her trusty vehicle, a worn model submariner.

The story is a fairly straightforward quest, given the unusual dramatic setup. As poet Billy Collins once quipped, all science fiction is one of two stories: either we go there, or they come here. This one is a variation on the former type. On the way we get to see some charming red blood cells and a few other creatures of the cellular level, unique interactions between the macro and the micro scale, as well as a whole cadre of nods and references to films and TV and other media from decades past.

The silver doped gauze screen works best with vector graphics, the Q&A reveals, and indeed simplified line art and text feature more than video. Demoscene evoking animation loops provide winning ambient texture to the puppetry. There's an appreciation for 80s and 90s retro, in video game references, the UI overlays, and some of the prop imagery. The visual style carries all the way to the work and interests of the unnamed designer struggling with a logo commission.

The male protagonist comes across as an emasculated or at least a somewhat passive character, enfeebled by a personal sadness or depression. He is a bit of a weeabo in his work kimono, and perhaps gently neurotic with his somatic attentiveness and corporeal hobbies. The fact that he has an intronaut to begin with speaks volumes, let alone having a conversational relationship with said cleaner. Adam Fuller's acting is not too subtle, but it gets the job done.

Our intronaut, Emma Keaveney-Roys, on the other hand is full of energy. She is always a-dancing, jumping around bashing electronics and stray bacteria alike. Human waste disposal is shown to be exhausting work, even dangerous, but she's a pro and knows how to get the job done. The seemingly everyday profession of the intronaut reminds me of rope access window cleaners, in combining the extreme nature of rappelling with the mundanity of the washing act.

A big theme in the show is that of loneliness and isolation. The intronaut is lonely and without support, cut off from the rest of the world. So much so that she cries out her humanity when the inner space weather prevents her from sleeping. Later she vividly fantasises about liaisons at an imagined bar. At the same time our designer stumbles with his dance practise alone, finds little delight in a classic comedy clip, and has only a saddo game to high five with. Both characters talk to themselves and their devices. Intriguing idea of human connection through synchronisation should have been explored more.

There's an intriguing latent or even repressed sexuality to be read in the metaphors and symbols employed in the show. The show begins with an anus itch that the designer summons the intronaut to dispatch, and immediately after she is called upon to dive down his throat. There's a clear master-servant dynamic, particularly in the submissively voiced chat scenes. The intronaut plays dolls with the erect joysticks of her sub, and frequently handles them with great vigour. She is very much into spanking. Her fantasy scene is well explicit. There's imagery of penetration through a membrane, and of a swimmer entering a sphere. More abstractly, there's the notion of a woman inside a man, and complex control games towards the end of the show.

Intronauts mostly chooses well in not trying to explain the obvious plot holes, but at the same time the story suffers from the incompleteness of the world. There's a wealth of references to other inner space worlds in which the action could be understood to take place, but there's still too much room to move in. For example sense of time is not established, so it is hard to say how much time has passes between sequences, and what the duration of things is. Half of the presented story is about establishing the seemingly ordinary in this strange world.

The story ends abruptly, with the climax over in the blink of an eye. Perhaps not unusually so for a Sci-Fi piece, perhaps forcefully cut to 60 minutes. Problems, or shall we say opportunities, with the ending were discussed in the post-show. More damagingly there's little dramatic tension to intrigue an adult viewer. The mood in general is rather uneven and uneasy, on one hand depressing and on the other hand comic with the world having a cartoonish, surreal logic to it. It was difficult to relate to the sadness of the designer and the craving of the intronaut.

Sci-Fi should be about using the future to talk about the present, or the timeless, the humane. Despite the promise of the themes, Intronauts almost ironically stays at the surface level.

The puppetry works and the sets are lively and mobile, both clearly company strengths. The acting is a bit flat. The screen makes a difference, and more so for the actors: as I suspected, and was confirmed in the Q&A, the actors don't really see the audience in any detail, if at all. This lack of connection is apparent, as some of the soliloquy and supposed interaction feels quite small and detached.

The lights work well and the animation is fine, though the retro style does feel a little cheap with the implied future technology, even for an aesthete designer. Same goes for the general sound of the show, but the music is at best a mixed bag. Some of the score is incongruent and feels like an sample assembled add-on, drawing too much attention on itself.

Intronauts is a committee piece. There's a wealth of clever ideas skilfully executed, but the team appears to have gotten a little too enamoured with the weaved web of references and the technical challenge to really refine the core. The story is not compelling enough to keep the package together, and we are left to drift in this fantastical retro world of the future. There's material here for a much larger show, but on the other hand much of the material is borrowed. Worlds like these have been built before.

Momentarily engaging, but ultimately unsatisfying journey through an inner space. See it for the technical novelty of the "hologauze" as well as the charming puppetry.