JOYCE MCMILLAN on SOMETHING VERY FAR AWAY at the Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, for The Scotsman 7.5.13.
4 stars ****
HERE IT IS again, Edinburgh’s glorious Imaginate Festival of theatre for children and young people; and it opened brilliantly last night with a performance of this beautiful 35-minute piece (for age 8 and over) by England’s leading children’s company, Unicorn Theatre of London. On a set that looks like a miniature series of cinema sound-stages dominated by a large overhead screen, writer-director-composer Mark Arends and his four-strong company of puppeteer-technicians create for us the story shown on the big screen, a sad tale of a star-gazing astronomer who loses the love of his life in a tragic accident. He knows, though, that the deeper you look into space, the further you see into the past; so he builds a rocket and travels to the very end of the universe, pausing on distant planets to gaze back at the earth as it once was, and catch a much-magnified glimpse of his loved one, still living and breathing.
It’s a poignant and strangely resonant story in itself; but the point of this show is that we watch not only the story, but the careful live recreation of it for the cameras, involving live puppet sequences, animation, models and shadow-play, all put together in real time in front of our eyes. There’s something here about human creativity itself, as a response to loss; the solace of making something, which the astronomer finds in his little hand-crafted spaceship, and theatremakers and their audience find in the act of creating the show itself. The music is beautiful, the little stick-puppets fragile and lovely; and the tiny models and shadow-silhouettes are so simple, and yet so effective, that the whole show seems like an incitement to start making and storytelling. Don’t get sad, get creative, it seems to say; and then it shows us how.