This is a show with a gimmick, and that gimmick is a good one. We’ve all heard about deepfakes – creepily realistic videos which match an actor’s voice to a famous person’s face, making it look like they’ve said something which they absolutely did not. The big hook of Sockpuppet is that you get to see that process happen, turning a live actor into a videoed celebrity in real-time, right there on the stage.
There are all kinds of worries and ethical concerns around deepfakes, and Buzzcut Productions’ script duly touches on those. But the big idea explored in Sockpuppet is something subtly different – and perhaps, even more disturbing. We follow a group of three students who’ve hit on a side hustle filming novelty deepfakes; but one of them is also putting the technology to a more personal use, and a much more poignant one.
It’s a sound idea, but there’s not enough storyline to sustain a full show. There’s some humour in some of the celebrity deepfakes and the vocal impression of Elon Musk is particularly well-done, but the more serious part of the script feels under-developed, with the consequences of the characters’ actions strangely unexplored. The show clocks in at 10 minutes under its advertised running-time, leaving an overall sense that it wasn’t quite ready to bring to Edinburgh.
The biggest problem, though, is with the setup of the stage. The live deepfakes are projected onto the backdrop, but the actors often stand in front of them – literally casting shadows – and from the seat I was in, it was impossible to see some of them at all. This isn’t down to the inevitable constraints of a Fringe venue; it’s just a failure to think the practicalities through.
All in all then, this is a disappointing treatment of an exciting idea. But it does prove the value of the gimmick – once that I’m sure we’ll see returning to the Fringe over the next few years.