Edinburgh Fringe Scotsman review: She Was Probably Not a Robot at Underbelly Cowgate (Venue 61), reviewed by Matt Trueman
Stuart Bowden is reminiscing about the day the human race died out. There was a huge flood, he explains, “You died.” He breaks the news with a soft compassionate smile. “You actually died really beautifully,” he tells a woman in the front: just dancing, oblivious to the ensuing oblivion. Then he looks down at his Casio keyboard and resumes his crappy falsetto aria.
As the last remaining human, Bowden is here to tell his tale: how, asleep on an inflatable mattress, he floated upwards as the floodwater rose and rode the currents around the world. It’s like The Life of Pi, only with an Aussie hipster and a wooden hobby horse instead of an Indian boy and a tiger.
Meanwhile, orbiting the Earth is an alien, Celeste – whom Bowden plays with a tin-foil-covered cardboard box on his head. For 25,000 years, she has been watching the Earth and building a replica. “It’s a hobby,” she says.
Like the inflatable mattress, Bowden’s story pretty much drifts wherever it pleases, but it is elevated above other fashionably surrealist yarns by its gorgeous notes of melancholia. More than other hipster manchildren – fellow Lounge Room Confabulator Will Greenway and Trygve Wakenshaw – Bowden feels like a grown man trying genuinely to recapture the freedoms of childhood. The resulting wistfulness cuts through the whimsy – even surviving his knowing, lackadaisical style that’s all throwaways and mood-killers.
It allows him to balance both humanity and humour. He has got a real intuition for clownish cycles and he’s better than ever at getting us playing along and joining in. Within ten minutes, we’re singing along and being clambered over by Bowden and his mattress-to-bear.
Running gags – Celeste’s abrupt exits, a dead dog on a stick – keep the momentum up and he’s happy to deviate for the sake of liveliness.
Yes, it’s idiot theatre – too wacky, too wispy – but Bowden injects just enough profundity to give it reason to exist.
The end of the world, he suggests, isn’t what bothers us, but the end of our world – our ex-girlfriends, our cosy flats, our favourite pets. Way up on Celeste’s replica world, Bowden takes a deep breath: “It smells a bit different.”
MORE INFO: She Was Probably Not a Robot is at Underbelly
Originally published in The Scotsman