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Boteco Basement, Edinburgh Festival Fringe

Robot Chef is a show that does exactly what it says on the tin. It is an hour-long show about a robotic chef: a specially-designed contraption making a breakfast meal through remote control. However, the precarious process of creating this culinary feast is bedevilled by the unreliability of audience participation. As various attendees of the show are called on to guide these machines through cooking tasks, such as pouring tins and turning on gas, the robot chef can either craft a masterpiece or a kitchen nightmare.

The method of audience participation is quite intricate. Pete and Lloyd, the computer wizards behind this show, have engineered a website accessible to smartphones that allows each audience member to join in various mini-games. You can create your own MS Paint-style avatar and compete in platform quests, Space Invaders-type elimination games and co-operative food preparation exercises. It all seems very technical to a typical non-coding layperson, but with a bit of practice you get used to the concept and joystick controls. This modern and innovative show brings audience participation firmly into the 21st-century with flair and without the anxiety of being singled out for speaking.

The story behind the show is one about a disappointing business venture. Pete and Lloyd are involved in a joint IT business as freelancing computer coders. It seems that their biggest client was Pete’s dad, so the rather dismal locality of their prospects – Stoke – has given the recourse to invent exciting outlets, such as this secondary project about the robot chef. While their entrepreneurial exploration hasn’t extended further than a basement, in Stoke or Edinburgh, Robot Chef is a chance for virtual recompense through a new creative outlet.

The robot chef is preparing to cater for a virtual end-of-contract blowout party. To celebrate finishing the meagre coding work for Pete’s dad, they have given virtual partygoers – the audience – tasks to do in creating this sausage and beans breakfast, after gulping down some flaming cyber-sambucas for Dutch courage.

The success or failure of the show is wholly dependent on the competence of the players. When I saw the show it was remarkably successful – even the sausage cannon, firing its lubricated torpedo with a pneumatic hiss, found its target of the frying pan. The baked bean dispenser poured roughly 50% of its load into the pan, so we’ll count that as a pass.

Robot Chef ends with a member of the audience tentatively sampling the collective creation. Upon trying the plate of food, which is critiqued as “tepid”, applause breaks out – I don’t believe there are any other Fringe shows that can boast the achievement of producing a slimy yet edible snack like this.

Blank-faced yet somehow charismatic, Pete and Lloyd move confidently through the show without technical or comic hitches. They meet the geek stereotype halfway, showcasing a nerdish awkwardness while capitalising on it for sleek humour. The pair, tangled in a messy web of wires and gadgets, are equipped with guitar, drum and body keyboards – conductive pads attached to a jacket that allow them to play synth, so they can perform songs at the drop of a hat. At one point Lloyd breaks out an animatronic duck costume for a rather surreal singing persona.

Is it true that too many cooks spoil the broth? Maybe, but we’re not aiming for a Heston Blumenthal work of art here. Robot Chef is a fun and distinctly new kind of Fringe show that delivers on a promise of comedy and entertainment. The duo work well as a team: they are bold, witty and commanding presences.

  • Comedy
  • Boteco Basement, Edinburgh Festival Fringe
  • Until 16th August 2018
  • Time: 13:20

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