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I love children’s theatre. I love the creativity of children’s theatre. I love the audiences of children’s theatre.

Whether it is theatre made by children for children (Shopfront Theatre’s junior ensemble always delights me) or if is children’s theatre made by adults, (Eg The Tragical Life of Cheeseboy or The Book of Everything) what is most important is the imagination of the audience and the inventiveness of the artists.

(And please note I am not talking about “children’s theatre” in any pejorative sense.)

For me inventiveness and imagination is the essence of theatre and is most powerful when an image, sound, word that stimulates or inspires in it’s viewer (participant/meaning maker/audience) more than merely the tangible, obvious meaning of what it is made of/what is being shown. It’s that extra level of engagement i am fascinated by – the suspension of disbelief -the willingness to access the possibility of all things.

When we as adults accept the possibility of things, we become brave enough to contribute to the world and consequently (whether we like it or not) change happens.

There is something that happens in our teenage years when fear of social rejection/acute awareness of the existential nature of life kicks in and we become cynical yet susceptible to options being closed to us… our lives, thinking begins to funnel into a trajectory we feel we can manage -we label and limit ourselves. And we lose the “I’m going to be a fireman/doctor/baseball player/farmer” sensibility. We see a stick as a stick or potential trip hazard, not as a sword or a wand with it’s magical properties. For me, theatre always reminds us to exercise our imaginations so that interesting and new opportunities can evolve… Children’s theatre is like the extreme version of that. That’s why I love it and it’s a regular part of my theatre going (despite the fact I have no children of my own) and probably always will be.

That being said, I’m not sure if The Adventures of Alvin Sputnik: Deep Sea Explorer is strictly or even intended to be a piece of children’s theatre. And frankly it doesn’t really matter to me. I guess, the audible gasps and the questions children ask in a show like Alvin Sputnik reminds us all, to always be curious, remind us to be restless in our engagement with art.

I laughed out loud… I was utterly engaged… I felt exhilarated and excited… and at the end I sat with tears fogging my vision. This is a beautiful, beautiful piece of work. See it. You really should.

First published on
http://www.australianstage.com.au/

The plush red seats of the Downstairs Theatre of the Seymour Centre during Sydney Festival are filled with chattering punters. In the case of The Adventures of Alvin Sputnik: Deep Sea Explorer, some of those bobbing heads and bubbling conversations are from the mouths of youngsters, who hypothesise and label all the things that they see on the stage.

Lit by a single light arcing out from the top of his head, like a single antennae, a man in black lycra suit sits at a computer. In the darkness of the stage the white/blue screen of a laptop makes it appear like he is just a face and hand grasping an inkless pen skirting over a wacom tablet. On stage, a large white material circle – a moon, a porthole, a shadow screen for puppets, a surface to project animations, live drawings… accompanied by the gentle strumming of a ukulele, occasional disco tunes and the occasional monologue we are told the Story of Alvin Sputnik: Deep Sea Explorer.

The world in the not too distant future (once the polar icecaps have melted and polar bears have toppled face first into the sea) is at the pointy end of a crisis. Options to save the remaining people on earth have slowly been discounted: man made islands sank and expeditions into outer space confirmed that there is no where else to go and confirmed the suspicion that we are truly alone. So is Alvin Sputnik. His beautiful, smiley wife (and fishing companion) has died, and he watches as her soul lifts up out of her body and floats down into the sea. He is alone. There is one last option for humanity – for an explorer to adventure into the sea and to the utopia at the centre of the earth in order to bring it to the drenched surface. Alvin volunteers in the hope that he can be reunited once more with his wife.

Deviser, perfomer, puppeteer and animator Tim Watts has created a magnificent work worthy of its international praise. Unique and endlessly creative, utterly resourceful and surprisingly delightful, The Adventures of Alvin Sputnik: Deep Sea Explorer, is a story about love, bravery and altruism. Visually spectacular and emotionally engaging Watts’ story blends traditional lo-fi storytelling techniques with the latest software and gadgets resulting in a story which is both very dark and extremely hopeful.

This isn’t a saccharine sweet children’s show –didactic and cautionary. It’s an uplifting all-ages reminder of how love can inspire the most heroic of deeds and most terrifying of quests. A reminder that love endures beyond all loss.

Take your boyfriend/husband or your girlfriend/wife, your children, your grandparents, your best friend. Allow yourself to marvel at the inventiveness of this utterly unique and engaging performer, allow yourself to delight in the humour and tenderness of Alvin’s world and allow yourself to surrender to the warm satisfying glow of a beautiful, well-made story.