BWW Review: THE STAR SEEKERS, National Theatre
The Dorfmann Theatre within the National Theatre complex is proving to be an even more versatile space than promised when it reopened after refurbishment in 2014.
In the years since then, it's been a venue for rock concerts, radically experimental theatre, in-the-round performances and garden variety proscenium arch presentations. For The Star Seekers, a write-your-own space adventure for three- to eight-year-olds, it is tricked out like a starry galaxy and a substation called Waterloo Space Station.
Presented by Bristol-based, award-winning company The Wardrobe Ensemble, The Star Seekers is fuelled by childhood wonder about the universe and a healthy dose of unselfconscious silly fun. As the audience enters the auditorium, every member, young and old, is instantly made a star seeker and sometimes even addressed by their own name courtesy of special space vests that were made in a crafts workshop in the foyer before the show.
Alph (Ben Vardy), Betty (Jesse Meadows) and Gammo (Jack Drewry) are three intrepid, first-time astronauts who must journey beyond the solar system and into the cosmos to find three missing orbs needed to fix the broken Infinite Energy Infusion Drive which supplies free and clean energy for planet Earth.
This premise leads to lots of interactive input from the children in deciding what should go into the astronauts' lunchboxes (space biscuits, anyone?), what planets should be made of, and what aliens should look like.
Inevitably, children being the unpredictable bundles of energy that they are, this makes for much delightfully conceptual hilarity - which also makes the show come truly alive for the adults as well. Planets are possibly made of broccoli, ice and smelly socks. One little girl wanted a planet made out of hearts called Love. It's true say that much of the charm of the show depends on the imaginations of the little co-collaborators.
It speaks to the skill, ingenuity and grace under fire of the performers that when some of the input from the children devolved into heckles, they took it in their stride, managing to smoothly deflect interruptions to keep this rocket of a show on its true course. Ben Vardy was particularly adept at thinking on his feet to incorporate non-sequiturs from the audience into the fabric of the whole performance.
Along the way, and to Drewry's atmospherically futuristic soundtrack, the performers impressively made an origami rocket out of paper, reacted to an increase and decrease in gravity, and, following suggestions from the children, freestyled a song to the rhythm of a disco-house beat about discovering planets in the solar system and beyond.
At one point, in a moment of anarchic fun, the audience was invited to pelt Vardy's Alph with scrunched up newspaper representing asteroids whizzing through the universe.
We danced, shouted, sang, stamped our feet and laughed. The Star Seekers might be a show made for children but it's a slice of effervescent joy that the whole family can partake in with gusto.
Photo credit: Ellie Kurttz