Binge Fringe Magazine

REVIEW: Desensitised, Insecta Theatre, VAULT Festival ★★★☆☆

Content Warnings: Disturbing themes, mentions of sexual abuse.

Well, I guess we knew what we were getting ourselves in for within the first few minutes, when we saw an audience member’s worldly stresses be transplanted into a foetus in a jar. Controversy is at the heart of Insecta Theatre’s unhinged and absurd sketch-theatre show about all things internet. Thankfully, the piece is very aware of its contentious nature, and Writer-Performer Andrew Mapperley is looking to provoke us into thinking about our relationship with the online world and the manmade horrors beyond our comprehension that it holds. The sketches in the piece are loosely held together by the thread of Andrew’s interaction with a self-made Artificial Intelligence replica of himself, who dictates his every move. This show is a wild ride, at points very disconcerting, and at others belly-achingly funny.

Mapperley is a deft and whimsically-inclined performer, able to absolutely rack through some very bodily intense sketches with ease. His body language bounces from flimsy whimsy to hunched and odd depending on the characters he are playing, all of whom originate from the dodgily-intentioned part of the web. We’re aware throughout that Mapperley is playing a set of characters, but it doesn’t detract from the shock factor of some of the jokes, which to clarify, range from asking audience members what sort of porn they watch, to reveal sensitive parts of their body for money, and whether or not they have ever sexually abused someone. The desired effect is to peel back the way we relate to the content we see online, and how desensitised we have become to morally horrific situations because of the internet.

In between the more controversial sketches, we are treated to some respite in abject silliness and randomness, also filling in for content that the internet is well known for. This can quickly turn dark however, so if you’re going to and see this piece it’s best to be on your toes the entire time. Equally, there are philosophical moments within the play which asks us to consider the whether we are building ethically sustainable and moral systems – from Artificial Intelligence to algorithms, Mapperley wants us to reconsider just what humans have done with this technology, and how far down the rabbithole we’ve gone. To that end, the piece is solid, the direction from Bewlay Stanton is tight and the piece is well delivered, with props, contraptions and set pieces galore that help Mapperley impact on the audience.

The disturbing nature of this piece absolutely will alienate certain sections of the audience, and turn a lot of people off from listening to the message completely. The themes are not handled particularly sensitively, which does lead to a lot of sharp inhales in certain sections, and this is something that is simply down to each audience member to uncover. Equally, sections in which Mapperley gets the audience to read out sections of the script are not done with enough care for the audience, and left one audience member who clearly had bad eyesight a little down the river without a paddle.

The ethos and delivery is there, but it feels as though Insecta Theatre could take a little more care of their audience members to get them in the right headspace to grapple with the themes they’re tackling. If you’re happy to be offended, the sections of dark humour will have you howling however. Wicked, witty and well-performed, this deranged insight into how dark a place the internet can be is truly original.

Recommended Drink: Desensitised is a Double IPA – high strength, high risk.

Performances of Desensitised have now concluded at VAULT Festival. Keep up with the company’s social media for future performances.

Jake Mace

Our Lead Editor & Edinburgh Editor. Jake loves putting together reviews that try to heat-seek the essence of everything they watch. They are interested in New Writing, Literary Adaptations, Musicals, Cabaret, and Stand-Up. Jake aims to cover themes like Class, Nationality, Identity, Queerness, and AI/Automation.

Festivals: EdFringe (2018-2023), Brighton Fringe (2019), Paris Fringe (2020), VAULT Festival (2023), Prague Fringe (2023-24), Dundee Fringe (2023)
Pronouns: They/Them