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Thirteen Cycles – An improvised 'AR' / sci-fi play

Thirteen Cycles invited Virtual Perceptions for their first show. Starring Katy Schutte and Chris Mead, the audience plays the role of shipfarers in cryogenic sleep, watching improvised entertainment over several years. The play is improvised; several stories play out, with natural endings, though how they begin is based on the duo’s interactions, lights, and placement of props.
The play celebrates sci-fi from its existential pondering to its zany adventures. While not for me, fans of the genre and improvised drama can hold hands in the unique Venn diagram, as they watch the production unfold.

Thirteen Cycles and its technology

Initially, the play surprised me. The team sold me on the idea of the ‘augmented reality set,’ which used ‘using projection mapped interactive visuals’ to shape the production. In my head, that meant headsets or phones during its run. I was wrong.  Turns out the lights were projections via lights, rather than a digital overlay of the world as the term normally implies.
My definition of AR is different. AR is tech that superimposes a computer-generated image over the world; an overlay which, as the term implies, augments your reality. The play does not do this, and it bent my expectations based on the materials provided. While the lights were nifty, Thirteen Cycles is not for AR lovers – and the AR aspect of the review will now conclude.

Thirteen Cycles as a play

So instead, I shall review this as a play.
The play is for lovers of sci-fi and improvisation. The duo wore bright space uniforms which reminded me of 70s shows, with a dash of slapstick and pathos. Some stories meandered atop a building which represented a word; another explored AIs who wanted to be printed into living bodies. Both actors were creative, funny, and I was impressed that it was all improvised.
At times the plays oscillated between ponderous pathos and creative comedy, unable to bring balance between the two. Both actors moved from discussing the philosophy of death, to baking digestives. While the play established the internal logic of the universe, the reality kept being shattered by random clumps of cookies and jests.

A play for a community

I felt the play would have been stronger if they focused on comedy. Both worked well against each other, and if they focused on a particular tone, it would have been less jarring.
It is clear Thirteen Cycles was made for sci-fi fans who like improv productions. If you happen to have a lightsaber in your drawer, and appreciate a dash of comedic fiction, take a look.
Thirteen Cycles is on at the Rosemary Branch Theatre from 13th – 29th November, Tuesday – Sunday. Tickets available here.
Tom Ffiske
Twitter: @TomFfiske
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