Death, grief and astrophysics may not sound like particularly family-friendly themes, but the Unicorn theatre’s Something Very Far Away tackles these subjects with beautiful results.
Innovative and bursting with imagination, Mark Arends’ short but sweet show – a mere 30 minutes – tells the story of a star-gazing man whose beloved wife dies leaving him heartbroken.
A dedicated telescope lover he decides – using the not altogether scientific but utterly lovely idea – that, as the further into space you go the further back into time you can see, he will build a rocket and travel the universe in search of planets from which he can gaze back in time and see his wife once more.
All this and more is portrayed for us without speech and with minimal text, Arends instead choosing to tell the whimsical and incredibly moving tale through screen projections, puppetry and the occasional Rob Ryan-style paper-cut caption.
Live animated in front of us, on a set that bears more resemblance to a backstage technician’s area than any conventional theatre stage, the company work across several different stations, the results filmed and projected onto a screen filling the back of the theatre.
This creates a truly unique experience allowing the audience to choose whether to watch the story unfold in its entirety on the screen like a film or be distracted by the busy cast who switch from operating the miniscule puppets to creating shadowy projections all the while accompanied by searing music, often performed live.
While the overall effect of the film is compelling, it’s hard to resist the temptation to watch how it is being created. From rain created with plant pots to sparklers lighting circus cannons, the beauty of this production lies not only in the heart wrenchingly bittersweet tale but in Arends’ attention to detail.
For all its innovation, however, the greatest excitement for the children in the performance I attended came courtesy of a simple mirror ball, which catapulted us up into the stars. For adults, there are plenty of similarly emotive moments to more than capture your attention.