It’s quite unusual to find a dance production created especially for children. It’s even more unusual to find professionally trained South Asian dancers performing that very show! But here at the Polka Theatre that’s exactly what they’ve done, and Akademi’s Plastic Drastic Fantastic is an exquisite production.
From the first few seconds of this aesthetically delightful show, it’s clear there is no compromising on quality just because it is for a young audience. A beautiful ocean, made entirely from an inflated tube of plastic, undulates across the stage and is an artwork in itself. In fact, the design from Brian Hartley is simply gorgeous throughout, and is complemented perfectly by the intricate soundtrack from Kathy Hinde and Matt Olden. This is a thoughtfully devised piece: it’s highly visual, making it widely accessible. As an additional sensory experience for audience members with a hearing impairment the bench seats offer small, adapted cushions, which pulsate to the beat of the music.
The dynamic performers Anjana Bala, Shivaangee Agrawal and Shyam Dattani are absolutely impeccable, as they relate a story of our human relationship with plastic through gesture and movement. It’s wonderfully refreshing to see classic South Asian dance performed so playfully and in a contemporary context: Suba Subramaniam’s sophisticated choreography simply sparkles. Their vibrant, detailed movement really draws attention to the many properties of plastics, as a simple bag is made into multiple items. It’s great fun to see the dancers playing with the objects, as they encourage the audience to think differently about the everyday uses of plastics, and to imagine where they might be found in our lives.
As the show progresses the dance demonstrates the mechanisation of plastic over-production and there is a lot of repetition of movement, which for me felt a little prolonged – I admit I zoned out a bit. The end section of the show then examines the issue of plastic in the ocean and the damage it causes. At one point a net of plastic bottles spills all over the floor, right up to the children sitting at the front. As the bottles were actually touching their feet, I was expecting the characters to perhaps ask the excited audience to help them clear the spill away, making them active participants, and it seemed a bit of a missed opportunity when it never occurred. Dealing as it does with environmental damage, the story does become a bit melancholy later on. However, it has a last-minute positive twist with a delightful portrayal of a happy turtle, demonstrating that it’s not too late to help change the situation.
Joyfully funny in places and more challenging in others, the performance demands a certain amount of concentration, so is definitely more suited to its 7+ suggested age range than to younger children. It’s an undeniably beautiful piece of work and a unique opportunity for families to engage in a conversation about plastic use and pollution through an unconventional and captivating medium. And extra kudos to the Polka Theatre for the additional workshops it has been running around the show, which really add value.
A Polka and Akademi co-production
Artistic Direction and Choreography by: Suba Subramaniam
Design by: Brian Hartley
Sound Design by: Kathy Hinde and Matt Olden
Consultant for Deaf Audiences: Ramesh Meyyappan
Lighting Design by: Ben Cowens and Aideen Malone
Plastic Drastic Fantastic plays at Polka Theatre until 8 May. Further information and bookings can be found here.
You can also read more about the play in our recent interview with Suba Subramaniam here.