Geniuses. The cameras are rolling, and Einstein’s brain is watching. But react as normal whilst we consume your every move, thought, and reaction – all for our viewing pleasure.
Fishbowl Theatre’s Genius is a reality TV show that I did not initially anticipate myself enjoying. This is because I never watch reality TV. Genius seemed like it would be simply another episode of University Challenge, a show I rarely indulge in as I find the sheer intellectual brilliance of the contestants intimidating and hate how stupid it makes me feel. So, this was a far cry from my theatre comfort zone. However, I was quickly proven wrong. As much as I tried to resist, I was sucked into this ‘reality' and was soon texting away, engaged in shipping Josephine (Anna Wodehouse) and Rosie (Beth Hindhaugh) and branding Charles (Jamie Bisping) a snake. I will admit that I have fallen victim to the juggernaut of Genius.
I could not help being drawn in. In this seriously clever reality TV performance, director Issy Snape uses satire to question our beliefs and value systems as five geniuses compete in a range of zany challenges to prove their excellence and win over an adoring public. But that is not all. The winning couple must procreate, resulting in a genius baby that can singlehandedly fix our bleak future. The inclusion of this element is nothing short of genius. Along the way, lead producer Harriet is always watching, although we never meet her. Einstein’s brain is a gateway for Harriet to assert her dominance and carefully control the narratives that make it onto our TV screens. Behind the scenes, the production team coerce these five exceptional people and experiment with their hearts. Josephine and Rosie cannot win the show: how will they produce a genius baby?
The show's electric soundtrack made it impossible to resist, as did the choice to feature parallel plot-lines. I revelled in seeing the makeup artists and wardrobe assistants diss the show and its stars, and was drawn in by the proclaimed geniuses. The inversion of reality TV stereotypes throughout Genius effectively questions celebrity culture and idolisation. Our obsession with celebrity, as the show highlights, is problematic. We can never be like the people we see on TV because they are not real. But the more we believe they are: the more money show producers make.
I find immense pleasure in telling people that I do not watch Love Island or The Circle. Nor do I consume any of the endless realms of other reality TV programmes that grip our nation, drive social media conversation and glue us to our screens night after night. They are shows typically associated with anti-intellect and are considered trashy TV. Both the shows and their stars are immensely shallow. Love Island is my ultimate TV irritation. In a programme that aims to capture ‘reality’ why are there no queer narratives? Are LGBT relationships not representative of love? I also have a problem with the manipulation of people for viewing pleasure. We are all aware of what goes on behind closed doors of these so-called ‘reality' shows. Fishbowl Theatre's Genius explores this manipulation with clarity and depth, and it is highly believable. Rosie and Josephine's ill-fated narrative highlights my point perfectly. Their spark is dampened by producers who do not want homosexuality on TV.
There is so much more that I could say about this gripping show, but I cannot give away any spoilers for anyone watching on catch-up. When you have seen Genius, drop me a message. Who do you think should have won?