“The majority fresher cast was broadly good, and the actors definitely seemed to be enjoying themselves”Aron Penczu

Neural Notwerks 2.0 is, shockingly, a follow on conceptually from the plain Neural Notwerks, last term’s ADC late show. As such, it was encouraging to see that their opening show sold out, with a queue out the door and a lot of awkward Corpus-corridor shifting; clearly the form was popular. Or the very large cast had been firmly told to get in all their friends. Or both. Who knows.

The show was opened by host Ben Martineau who explained to those there for the first time that the show would revolve around “the sort of crap that a computer can generate”. He went on to assure the pitiably small percentage of Computer Scientists in the room that this show used Markov Chains, by all accounts an impressive step forward from the neural networks utilised in the previous production. Martineau was an engaging host, and, as an Arts student who hadn’t seen the first show, I found the preamble both amusing and informative.

The subtle changes from sketch to sketch were skilfully designed and carried out

The show continued in quite a Mock the Week set up; a line of chairs lay along each of the walls of Corpus, and Martineau called up performers by name. Unlike in Mock the Week however, there was no camera to pan away from the performers’ giggles at their own jokes and at times this looked self-indulgent. Overall, I was incapable of figuring out which parts of the show, if any, were improvised, and which were entirely scripted. This was, most definitely, a good thing. It lent the show an exciting dynamism, and kept the audience wondering what on earth was going on.

The sketches themselves were mostly very good. Reflecting the make-up of the audience, the sections that went down best were mostly ones that sent up the academic or thespian “process”. In particular I thought the Shakespeare was excellent, and the rehearsal and essay sketches both extremely funny and popular with the audience. The Google Translate sketch was, if not hilarious, certainly relatable and the organisation of the sequence of sketches was in general very good.

The re-emergence of the student experience in a variety of scenarios kept the audience engaged and gave them what they wanted: student content machine-created for the student audience. If anything, the clever sequencing of sketches made the show as a whole seem funnier than it perhaps deserved. One or two sketches (the video game, the rap) seemed to drag on a lot longer than necessary, although all got at least a few laughs.


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The lighting, by co-developer Chris Lazenbatt, was very good. Not, in any sense, flashy, it didn’t distract attention from the energetic work of the actors, but the subtle changes from sketch to sketch were skilfully designed and carried out. The majority fresher cast was broadly good, and the actors definitely seemed to be enjoying themselves. At times performances weren’t as slick or as expressive as one might like, but the good humour and good will of the cast overcame that.

At its worst, this is-it-improv-is-it-not show could feel a little like watching the cast play warm up games in a rehearsal; at its best, however, it was truly very funny. It also felt (individually over-long sketches aside) as though it was over in a flash. With no comedy on the cards until the fresher’s sketch show in Week Two, take your light entertainment where you can get it, and go see Neural Notwerks 2.0: Harder, Beta, Faster, Stronger.

Neural Notwerks 2.0: Harder, Beta, Faster, Stronger is on at the Corpus Playroom until 28 April

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