The curtains are drawn in The Dome stage at BATS Theatre creating a central vignette to a large table that is decorated with an assortment of fruits and vegetables. I am intrigued by the lonely beetroot sitting downstage and the tub of bobbing apples in the corner. Atkins sets the energy at a high bar as she enters to an upbeat retro electro-pop song exclaiming a ‘wow’ to the audience. Atkins explores the venue with the audience, changing the tone of her ‘wow’ depending on the excitement of the object at hand. The clowning trick of setting up a game with the audience is a frequently revisited convention of the show and allows the audience to engage with their own reactions (good and bad) to, as Atkins puts it, ‘wet mouth sounds’. It’s Atkins likeability and cheekiness that carries the show - I feel rested that despite the show's unconventional nature she’s there to explore with us and not at us.
The strongest ASMR-reliant gag is Atkins showing us how she films an ASMR YouTube video. Atkins sets up the video by positioning her microphone and camera, ‘cosmo’ at a comically close-up angle to her face. The camera is projected on the back wall of the stage where it distorts Atkins forehead and mouth emphasising the crunching, munching, and slurping of the fruit and vegetables much to my simultaneous delight and discomfort. Atkins tells the audience, ‘I’m your doctor’ and starts us on an unconventional treatment plan that consists of loud carrot eating. The eating sounds are picked up on the mic and I find the mixed reactions from the audience hilarious, Atkins doesn’t give into their groans and takes it seriously. I personally appreciate how this gag and Atkins’ sincerity caters to the ASMR novice and super-fan by both acknowledging the confusion ASMR typically provokes but also respecting it as an art form.
As the show progresses, Atkins continues to set up games with her audience where we are encouraged to make sounds of approval or disapproval to her various ASMR offers. Whilst the convention is strong and shows a live and organic approach, I would suggest Atkins and Hirsch end these games on the loudest laugh. There are some brilliant moments of surprise with a watermelon and a naked tomato (I won’t spoil it in case it’s used again) that I felt Atkins undercut the show’s flow by moving on to other, less explosive fruit. Nearing the end of the show, Atkins successfully raises the stakes by running around the stage desperately searching for more extreme offers whilst asking the audience to ‘like and subscribe’. I’m unsure whether the intention of this is to provide some social commentary of the challenge content creators face in trying to please their audience or if it's another clowning convention, but I’d like to see this explored further in future seasons. The show ends with Atkins creating a graveyard for the mangled fruits/vegetables strewn across the stage. Thematically, this encapsulates the mess and chaos of the show whilst remaining true to the concentrated whispers that is ASMR. I ask if the funeral song was necessary when Atkins had already won over her audience with a mostly non-verbal approach? Overall, I think the show meets its intention of discovering ASMR and its live capacity with the audience but I want more of everything, more obscure roleplays, more cameras and more props! Atkins' energy is exactly where it needs to be and by tightening some of the gags in the rehearsal room the show should (and I hope will) return for another season.
Ephemeral Theatre’s RAW! ASMR is an excellent introduction to what I hope will be a new and popular genre of theatre - you’ve got yourself a fan! The 2022 Fringe Festival season is over, but keep an eye and an ear out for Ephemeral Theatre’s next ASMR installment.