A thrilled gasp ran through the audience as the robot Ophelia had built unexpectedly came to life. “The light, the light!” called a dozen voices, pointing Ophelia towards the flashing robot. It was a magical moment in Barking Gecko Theatre Company’s new production My Robot. The front row of school children were nearly leaping out of their chairs to join in as Ophelia danced in delight with her newly invented friend.
Barking Gecko, WA’s leading theatre company for children, is giving the world premiere season this month of My Robot, the latest creation from playwright Finegan Kruckemeyer. The story follows Ophelia who has just moved house and is missing her old home and friends.
“We are all made of pieces” she says, explaining that some of her pieces are missing. “I feel piece-less; I feel peace-less.” It is a beautifully crafted script and Ophelia both narrates (in subtly flowing couplets) and participates in the story, recounting her feelings as she experiences the strangeness of her new home town.
With her new robot friend Olivetti – constructed from bits of junk – she takes on Otis the local bully, befriends Orson who is allergic to everything and connects with the mysterious Mrs Ogilvie from the junk shop.
Arielle Gray is a petite and effervescent Ophelia, sporting piggy tails, inventor goggles and a fabulous tool belt. Her goofy Dad is played by St John Cowcher who also doubles as Orson, Mrs Ogilvie and Otis the wanna-be bully. Cowcher’s transitions between Dad and Otis weren’t always clear, with repeated props (a beach ball) and limited variation in costuming causing confusion among my junior critics: “Why was the dad so mean to Ophelia?”
The rest of the show however was perfectly pitched for its recommended age group of 4-10 year olds. My party (aged four and six) appreciated the classic theatre moments like when Olivetti snuck around the room disguised under a box, much to the confusion of Ophelia’s dad. And the thrilling scene where the audience became the ocean awash with blue lighting through which Ophelia rushed to rescue Otis.
Resourceful storytelling by director Matt Edgerton and designer Isla Shaw included shadow puppetry and flying boxes. The tricks got even cooler with Steve Berrick’s customised junk robot that could talk, light up, shake hands and quirt silly string at bullies (operated remotely by the skilful Sarah Nelson). Chris Donnelly’s lighting and James Luscombe’s intricate soundscape (pre-recorded voices, radio static and composed music) completed the immersive experience.
The 50 minutes flew by and will be talked about for days to come in our home. In fact the magic of the theatre was so effective my kids don’t believe that Ophelia was acted by an adult. They are convinced she is actually eight, or eleven max. In fact Ophelia makes a fabulous role model for all ages. It’s good to be reminded that when loss leaves us feeling incomplete we can,with a little bit of courage and resourcefulness find new pieces.
My Robot runs until Nov 25th at the State Theatre Centre. Tickets are $28.50. Highly recommended!