Thursday, April 14, 2011

The Adventures of Alvin Sputnik – Deep Sea Explorer written and performed byTim Watts.

The Adventures of Alvin Sputnik – Deep Sea Explorer written and performed byTim Watts.  Perth Theatre Company and Weeping Spoon Productions at The Street Two, April 12-16, 2011.

Reviewed by Frank McKone
April 14

RomTragCom for young adults is how I saw Alvin Sputnik.  But the primary age brother and sister sitting in front of me, after a little anxiety at early death and fright at the loud demand to be a superhero, settled in to the whimsy and said it was “great” at the end.  My (older) generation responded empathetically to the death and perhaps expected more depth of feeling to focus Alvin’s search for his wife’s soul.

For the modern-style bright young things who composed most of those present,  Watts’ shifting relationship with his audience – from technician to puppetry and mime artist, computer graphics artist to singer-songwriter, in-role narrator to in-role character, actor keeping to pre-programmed visuals and sound to actor interacting with the audience and thanking them after a second round of applause – was the kind of spark of originality they look for in theatre.  For this generation, mode shifting is a natural part of technological life.

The romance of this story lies in Alvin’s response to the untimely death of his soulmate.  He is attracted to the idea of heroically acting, even to the point of accepting the possibility of his own death, to save the world from environmental destruction.  Global warming is taken to an extreme – the world is completely inundated as the seas rise even above the peak of Everest – and so Alvin must dive beyond the drowned remains of civilisation in the hope of entering the hollow core of the earth where the environment is said to be perfect for human life.

Though his wife’s death was tragic, there is unexpected comedy in his adventures, during which he sees, or fancies that he sees his wife’s soul, a soft luminosity which he follows until he sees, or fancies he sees the beauty of the inner core – except that, as he had been warned, his oxygen is on the point of exhaustion and the entrance is through a violent volcano which kills him.  Only then can his soul meet with his wife’s, and the luminous images mingle, looking like dividing cells reuniting.  The world has not been saved, but their love is undying.

What I found fascinating was to see how Watts’ design produced a distancing effect which allowed him to present to his own age group a romance without sentimentality, with light touches of comedy, which is a tragedy not because of the protagonists’ deaths but because of the implication that we humans have failed to sustain the earth.

This is a small step into a new form of mixed-media theatre which, I expect, foreshadows greater works to come.