Reviews Edinburgh Fringe 2019 Published 10 August 2019

Edinburgh fringe review: Fulfilment by SharkLegs

Boxed in: Alice Saville writes on a disconcerting, robot-led dive into Amazon’s fulfilment policies.

Alice Saville

‘Fulfilment’ at Underbelly Festival. Photo: Tom Ziebell

‘Every generation wants their own version of freedom fighters,’ wrote Conservative MP Liz Truss last year, in an attempt to win over this country’s youth by writing an article in the, err, Telegraph. ‘This generation are Uber-riding, Airbnb-ing, Deliveroo-eating freedom fighters. And to turbocharge our future we need to champion these values, and let people off the leash by liberating every corner of the economy.”

Freedom… by being at the beck and call of an international, tax-dodging corporation that denies sick leave and unionising rights. Okay. But this counterintuitive message is just one of the many double-thinks that 21st century corporate culture is keen to sell us on.

Fulfilment unwraps another. This performance is named after Amazon’s Fulfilment Centres, which are actually just warehouses staffed by workers who are anything by fulfilled. And its structure sets up a powerful dichotomy; between the endlessly caring facade Amazon displays to its customers, and the robotically cruel system it creates for his workers.

One side of Fulfilment is a fairly straightforward piece of verbatim theatre; they’ve spoken to workers who itemise conditions which force them to become superhuman, or subhuman. They engage in a gamified race to achieve 100% picking rates, running miles across vast warehouses. Lack of toilet breaks mean they avoid drinking water. They lift heavy loads and suffer from back pain, but they’re allowed no sick leave, and any sign of weakness means dismissal. There’s not really time to get to know individual voices here; they build in an unstructured cacophony of resigned misery. I found myself boiling in the anger they’re too weary to feel, at the way we’ve allowed huge corporations to become their own countries, able to make their own laws and reshape language so that it makes their worse cruelties sound like one big game.

This performance’s other, more arresting side takes the form of playful robot Robox, who talks like a toddler and extends his curvy cardboard arms for hug after hug. It’s inspired by huge corporations’ algorithm-enabled quest to get us to love them; curvy pastel interfaces, the language of care and fulfilled dreams. Created by Jimmy Grimes and endearingly voiced by Claire Parry, the robot lures the audience into delightfully weird moments of interaction. I got to ‘personalise’ it by drawing on its tummy; another audience member got trapped in a hilarious onstage wedding ceremony, a metaphor for a company that wants to fulfil every emotional need a human might have.

The two halves don’t really talk to each other. The robot scenes take on a hilarious sentience of their own, beep-booping away from exploring the darker side of data-harvesting and algorithm development (a misjudged horse dildo delivery aside). And sometimes it’s a little bit frustrating that they don’t more directly relate to the less-fleshed out verbatim warehouse scenes. But maybe that’s a metaphor for the way that Amazon’s corporate princelings are carefully shielded from the sweaty realities of life in fulfilment centres. Classic gig economy. Beautifully wrapped. Hollowness and unfairness hidden inside. And in the robot’s growing intelligence, there’s also whisper of a scarier future to come; one where workers are mechanised, as well as maltreated, out of existence.

Fulfilment is on at 3.40pm at Underbelly Cowgate until 25th August, as part of the 2019 Edinburgh fringe. More info and tickets here

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Alice Saville

Alice is editor of Exeunt, as well as working as a freelance arts journalist for publications including Time Out, Fest and Auditorium magazine. Follow her on Twitter @Raddington_B

Edinburgh fringe review: Fulfilment by SharkLegs Show Info


Written by Kezia Cole and Richard Hay

Cast includes Claire Parry, Phoebe Hyder, Ronan Cullen

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