Two plays written by Vince LiCata and directed by Andy Jordan comprise Petrol and Neurons, currently streaming in the Brighton Fringe. Recorded on Zoom – each with a cast of three – they both nudge at the boundaries of what will be possible in science in the near future, and also hint at the perils of navigating a virtual meeting call.
In The Lilly Pod, John Smith (played by Alan White) offers something unique to mega-rich Danny Gauche (played by Henry Southwick). The product on offer is a “deep water micro pod” which will allow him to draw on his own gas and oil reserves wherever he goes. Placed as a business model in an experimental phase, it is clearly ridiculous when you stop to think about it. Gauche (the same is clearly significant) is clearly an idiot with too much money who has never worked a day in his life, and whose wife Annie (played by Victoria Mussik) is only with him for the money.
Despite Southwick’s vivid comic performance, I struggle to accept that anyone is this dim: not just reading all his personal bank details into a live Zoom call, but also showing off a lump of rock as an expensive diamond. Clearly this man is set up to be scammed. There’s a predicatable ending, or perhaps I should say endings, and far too much about the rich vs poor divide out of the mouth of an aspirational, bored, wife. There is mileage in exploring “the sixth extinction” as a dramatic piece, but it is not properly addressed here.
In The Lab Meeting, Allie (played by Manny Sandridge) and Sam )played by Kaitlin Kerr) meet up on a work Zoom call, but stray into personal matters from the night before. They work on the same experimental projects, which turn out to be around the growth of brain cells. She is flirty, while he is flustered. There are interesting moral questions here not just of mixng the personal and the professional, but about artificially intervening in human cell technology, potentially for profit. The other member of the team is Andrea (played by Tiffany Gilly-Forrer), ambitious about her work but preferring to climb the ladder by toying with the boss than through taking any risks with her work.
The idea of the cell differentiation is not fully developed, nor is the character of Andrea, who seems to belong in another show altogether. The warm rapport between Allie and Sam is well portrayed, as is the excitement of being keepers of a secret with the potential of changing the world.
As a duo of plays, these do sit together with some parallels, but neither feel fully formed yet, weakening the overall effect of Petrol and Neurons as a show.
Fringe rating: ***
You can stream Petrol and Neurons at the Brighton Fringe until 27 June. Book your ticket (£5) here.