A set made out of a load of old plastic refuse does not at first thought seem inspiring for a children’s show. But recycled and reinvented by Theatre-Rites this old rubbish becomes something quite magical, in a story that makes clear that the power to elicit change is in the hands of the watching younsters.
Zoe (Shanez Pattni) is happily going about her day, just doing the laundry. She dismisses the radio’s warnings of environmental crisis, and unthinkingly throws her plastic drink bottle into the washing machine. Trying to rescue it, she finds herself transported on a time-travelling adventure to a floating island made entirely of our discarded plastic, and there is an awful lot of it as Zoe finds out. She meets some new friends and Spirit, a wise, Yod-esaque figure who sets her a challenge amongst the plastic pollution that she has to achieve before she can return home.
There’s something unique about this show from the very start, as British Sign Language (BSL) is seamlessly integrated into the performances of the entire cast, something that we’re starting to see more nowadays and all power to that. The young audience happily embrace this as if it is perfectly normal, and maybe in time it will be. With communication being less verbal there are greater opportunities for brilliant physical theatre from the talented ensemble. Benedetta Zanetti, Eden Harbud and Teele Uustani work in superb synchronisation, puppeteering multiple and varied characters with enthusiasm and plenty of humour. Zanetti is herself deaf, so there’s further, impressive normalisation of disability in the performance and Pattni, who is just lovely as Zoe, is accompanied onstage by a BSL interpreter.
Alys Whitehead‘s excellent set and costumes reinvents waste in some remarkable ways. The audience enjoys a constant puzzle, as they try to identify what things have been made from. It’s beautifully complemented by Rajiv Pattani’s precise lighting design, which works with Frank Moon’s excellent original soundtrack to evoke multiple interlinked atmospheres; from moments with a sense of spirituality to silly comedy scenes at the other extreme. The puppets, created by Naomi Oppenheim, Charlie Tymms and Rebekah Wild, are delightfully surprising, and all made from waste materials and plastic they offer a further message of sustainability,. There’s a friendly washbasket turtle and an amazing pelican with plastic cup legs. There’s a whole selection of undersea creatures, from carrier bag jellyfish to an incredible manta ray that’s basically a sheet of bubble wrap, but which swims fluidly through the air, moving with the characteristics of the creature and leaving us to imagine the details ourselves. No massive budget obvious there, just creativity and craftsmanship, that also hints of a suggestion that trash can also be reinvented at home after the event.
This is a deceptively complex, layered production that is a delight even for the older audience members. Writers Sue Buckmaster and Jimmy Osborne have shaped the script to incorporate an urgent message in a way that’s wholly palatable and totally fun for a young audience, but at the same time offers a distinctively intelligent and respectful tone that doesn’t talk down to its young audience. And it really is visibly and audibly enjoyed, with the children cheering and joining with the closing call to action, leaving them ready to be the change that we so need when it comes to our use of plastic right now.
Zoe’s Peculiar Journey Through Time is a hugely enjoyable and innovative piece that credits its young audience with the intelligence to think for themselves about a very serious subject, whilst offering masses of magic and entertainment.
Written by: Jimmy Osborne with Sue Buckmaster
Directed by: Sue Buckmaster
Set & Costume Design by: Alys Whitehead
Based on an original design by: Joanna Parker
Composition & Sound Design by: Frank Moon
Lighting Design by: Rajiv Pattani
Assistant Director: Rachel Warr
BSL, Linguistic Consultant: Daryl Jackson
Puppets designed by: Naomi Oppenheim, Charlie Tymms, Rebekah Wild
Produced by: Burgtheater, Vienna and Theatre-Rites
This production is aimed at ages 6+. It is now touring and will next play at Polka Theatre from 29 September – 8 October, further information and bookings can be found here.