Saturday, November 26, 2011

Theatre: The Adventures of Alvin Sputnik: Deep Sea Explorer

Perth Theatre Company and Weeping Spoon Productions
Created and Performed by Tim Watts
With the collaboration of Arielle Gray
Construction by Anthony Watt
Sound design by Tim Watts and Matt Cheetham
Production by Chris Isaacs
STC Studio
22 November – 3 December, 2011

The first scene of the globe-trotting Alvin Sputnik is as touching and brilliantly realised as anything you’ll ever see anywhere. Behind a circular screen, lit al la Freddy Mercury in Bohemian Rhapsody, and plucking on his ukulele, Alvin (Tim Watts) sings to his dying wife, begging her not to go tonight. Her pale puppet body breathes silently until, as her husband watches helplessly, it is wracked by death throes and expires. A glowing form – her soul, her spirit – leaves her body and floats away.
You think immediately of the beautiful opening tableau of the magical Up, and how completely they both draw you into the story that is to follow.
That story of how Alvin pursues his lost wife’s soul into the depths of the ocean, incidentally finding a new life for mankind from the climatic disaster that has drowned and wrecked the world above, is told in live, puppeteered and animated scenes of wonderful technical skill and inventiveness by Watt. The deep sea diving-suited Alvin, in various forms but most often a simple hand glove with a fishing float for a head, meets a stock array of dangers and challenges to achieve a kind of apotheosis, finally giving himself to be re-united with his Elena and save the world.
I’m not going to pretend that the story lives up to either its ambitions or its beginning; in large part it’s fairly standard stuff, lacking the tension and twists that make the great Pixar stories to which it has been compared so compelling. Neither does it bring you to the emotional or intellectual depths and heights of tales like its progenitor Orpheus and Euridyce. The collective (mainly young and female) sigh that went up in the STC Studio when Alvin and Elena are finally re-united beyond the bounds of life sounded more like children coming across a particularly cute kitten than an exhalation of catharsis.
Am I being curmudgeonly? If the show’s opening had been less spell-binding, would I have been less underwhelmed by what followed? Is a slight, sentimental story superbly made and performed enough to make for a great night’s theatre?
I guess so.

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