Iris Bowdler

Gabriel Winsor’s Sockpuppet, could not have come at a more important time. The recent exponential growth in the use of deep-fakes is troubling all around- both for the people being imitated, and for the general public. It’s promoting belief in ‘fake news’ as politicians are often targeted. A new subsection of porn is cropping up, with people layering the faces of celebrities, or even people they know, onto videos of people having sex. It’s a horrifying issue that writer Gabe Winsor has tackled with success. 

Sockpuppet approaches deep-fakes from a fresh angle, one of personal pain that is not caused by an outside influence, but rather one’s own misuse of the technology. It doesn’t dwell on the wider ramifications of deep-fakes, or the rise of ‘fake news’, but it tells the tale of a love story. It breaks through the hard stuff to what seems like a lighter topic, but is more heartbreaking than you would expect.

The BT Studio, sterile in its appearance with a white tarp covering the stage, featured a desk, a camera on a tripod, and a ring light. The simplicity of the setup allowed the actors to stand out and shine in their surroundings, while being aided by amazing technology and video projection by the crew. 

The play is opened by Lucy Mae Humphries who, imitating ‘Margot Bobbie’ using deep-fake technology, explains her business plan: selling deep-fakes to people for money. Even without the deep-fake of Humphries as a celebrity being projected onto the wall, you could tell who she was being. The technology used by the crew is impressive to say the least. Using real-time video projections without fault, gave the performance a professional feel, without the crew having all the luxuries of a professional production. Annabel Baptist balanced Humphries out perfectly by being the stern voice of reason, reeling her in to avoid disaster. Her performance was impressive, especially considering the limited range of emotions her character expressed compared to the other characters. Both actresses delivered stellar performances, with Humphries embodying each celebrity in mannerism and style with eerie likeness. Although the play was short, without Baptist the creeping darkness of the show would have been too subtle, and wouldn’t have worked as well. 

The star of the night, and definitely one to watch out for in Oxford Drama, was Henry Waddon. His heartbreaking love story, or possibly the opposite of a love story, brought me and what seemed like most of the audience to tears. His stellar and harrowing performance, facing the crowd with raw emotion, was not one to forget. Waddon embodied the pain that deep-fakes cause, while showing us the desire and want for them, threading a careful line between love and extreme hurt. It is hard to pack such a punch in 30 minutes, but Waddon managed to bring life into a topic that many can’t relate to yet. 

A special round of applause should be given to Gabe Winsor, who wrote Sockpuppet. The originality shown in this piece, while approaching a new topic hardly seen before in theatre, is brave, and he pulled it off perfectly. By avoiding the tougher issues when it comes to deep-fakes, he actually highlights them. Winsor shows the potential disasters associated with even the slightest misuse of deep-fakes, and shows the extreme lengths to which this technology should be closely monitored and regulated. Winsor’s play hints at regulation on a micro scale, and makes us wonder about regulation on a wider, national level.

While writing reviews, it’s always important to be balanced, but it’s hard to find balance when a play has so few faults, if any. If you’re willing to splash some cash on a train or plane to Edinburgh, go watch this show at the Fringe. You won’t be disappointed.