One of the very few good things about the COVID pandemic is that the opportunities to live stream theatre performances have increased exponentially, allowing people to access productions and theatres that normally would be difficult to attend in person. I was not able to physically attend the debut run of the play Cookie Jar at the Space Theatre in London, but I still had the chance to follow the performance’s live stream on YouTube. While nothing compares with in-person theatre, in my opinion, the recording was very professional, with clear audio and video and I was able to fully enjoy the play.
Cookie Jar is a new play from emerging writing talent Kiran Benawra and tackles some very modern topics connected to the Internet and new technologies: fake news, deepfake technologies, online privacy and the use/abuse of personal information by big corporations. Cookie Jar Media is the entertainment branch of a big tech company; recently one of their TV presenters, Layla Cabell, committed suicide following the release of some deepfake porn videos that destroyed her reputation. Cam (Amy Wallace), a young newbie to the media industry, is hired by boss Jupiter (David Bibby) to replace Layla and host the children’s TV show of the company. However, allegedly to protect Cam and avoid a repeat of what happened to Layla, Jupiter decides to give Cam a fake face and voice, using the same technology used to hurt Layla in the first place.
The story is presented as an AI reconstruction of what happened and shows how Cam struggles to engage with the children using the fake identity and how she struggles to liaise with some of her colleagues (played by Nadege Nguyen, Jadene Renee Prospere and Kathryn Bond) still shocked by the death of Layla; Cam decides to dig into Layla’s story with a colleague’s help and they end up finding rather chilling details about the company they work for (but let’s not spoil too much).
It is a clever satire of the main privacy issues we face every day online and some of the chilling things we may be permitting big tech companies to do with our data when we tick the T&C box on many websites without ever reading the details: for example Cookie Jar media T&C includes the ability to access the users’ webcam to gather data on how people react to the different shows/content and this is buried into a document hundreds of pages long. It also raises the question of what is truly real in the online world and how it is getting increasingly more complicated to identify fake news. I am not sure how many people realise how advanced deepfake technologies are and how they can be used, so I appreciate Benawra’s effort to raise awareness of the topic.
My main criticism is that the play is currently too short (60-70 min) to properly tackle all the topics raised and gets to the end a bit abruptly with a lot of loose ends, leaving the viewer wanting more. Maybe this is done on purpose, as this is supposed to be a quick satire to raise awareness, but I would have loved a bit more time to explore and conclude some of the plot twists. That said it is a very interesting play brought to life by an extremely talented cast that succeeds in drawing attention to many privacy issues and leaves the viewers reflecting on the darker side of our online life and the perils of trusting blindly big corporations.
Review by Fabio Ghiotto
Welcome to Cookie Jar Media, the entertainment outlet of a big tech company. Go behind the scenes – and behind the smiles – as the team finds themselves in and amidst a desperate rebrand following the suicide of their former colleague, TV host Layla Cabell. After deepfake porn using her image went viral, the media tore her reputation apart, and she was fired from her job. In lieu of this, Cookie Jar Media have found the perfect replacement for Layla, squeaky clean newcomer to the industry, Cam. But it seems that Layla’s presence still lingers…
Jadene Renee Prospere
Writer: Kiran Benawra
Director: Bettina Paris
Movement Director: Emma Rowbotham
Associate Producer: Enrose Ramos
Stage Manager: Gwenan Bain
COOKIE JAR ON DEMAND
Booking to 15 OCT 2022