New work has an irresistible charm for me. I am passionate about New Zealanders telling our stories on our stages and I’m particularly excited when work dares to go beyond the personal. Stories that invest wildly in the imagination and dare to traverse beyond polemics and politics – those are stories that will herald a new way of shifting our narratives and have potential to chart new territories in our theatrical landscape. This is work that I am particularly keen to see on our stages.
I have high hopes for Little Child of Miracle. An adult fairytale, it promises to be “visually spectacular” with an offer to create a “show without cynicism and with very earnest characters that are yearning and floating around in space”. In all honesty, I’m not quite sure what the last statement is supposed to mean but I go along with the ambiguities in the hopes of being pleasantly surprised by a stellar team of creatives.
Unfortunately, this is not the case. The hour long show follows the very loose narrative of Little Child (Christopher Stratton) who leaves his mother the moon to meander aimlessly in space where he encounters all sorts of other celestial and earthly creatures. These include a princess (Natalie Maria Clark), a star (Priya Sami), a moon (Virginia Frankovich), a moth (Yvette Parsons) and a fish (Ruby Reihana-Wilson).
There is evidence of love, loss, tragedy and yes, there is an essence of genuine searching and an attempt to connect at a different other worldly level. But the form, content and aesthetic simply don’t work.
It’s frustrating because the performers aren’t novices. Stratton comes with accolades of his visual flair yet the design is cheap and tacky. There is a shag-pile carpet moon and a lad in gym shorts wearing a transparent plastic cloak bearing an electric candle while spinning through space in a wheelbarrow. Of course there is the potential to be endearing but the cringe factor is just too high.
Devised by Stratton and Clark, the show lacks not just dramaturgy but direction. There is no cohesive or coherent narrative to hold these various encounters together beyond a childlike search for truth and meaning. While hoping to be introspective and deep, if we can’t see these things on the stage there is little point in signalling vaguely towards great insights.
This is also disappointing because Clark has a background in dance and her work has been recognised for its potential. While her choreographic skills are evident in the attempts to create a movement work (perhaps most successful in Parson’s moth sequences), for the most part it simply is too awkward and clumsy to be anything more than a fumbling, highly gesticulative mess.
The structure of the story does little to aid these fragments or indeed the characters. Stratton is a lanky, bespectacled and quite endearing wee child figure but the opening drags with multiple flounces across the space and when the action finally begins, it dissipates into moments that are over exaggerated and inevitably inconsequential.
Again, I want to like this work. Priya Sami has talent and I am very grateful to hear her sing – and I’m glad she has the opportunity to do so twice. However, her solo sits in an odd place in the script and seems to be added in rather than be part of any overarching narrative.
Yvette Parsons also has appeal as the grumpy fairy with her awkward ballet routine. There is something there that could be uncovered and tapped-into – but it isn’t done to anywhere near the extent needed. Clark also performs in the work but, as mentioned before, without any direction she performs multiple roles (including the princess and her skeletal remains) with one-note antics that do nothing to serve either the character or the story.
This is a new work but it is also very much a work in its embryonic stages. There are seeds of good ideas sprinkled throughout and the premise of an adult fairytale deserves to be respected. There is a nod to the silent film era but it’s clumsy and awkward, as are the often-muffled voice overs and the ad hoc design. Despite the use of a disco ball there is nothing innovative in this design to create the arresting spectacle promised.
If you have friends in this show, go along and support them, that’s what friends do. Hopefully this work will come back stronger and refreshed in a way that will in fact deliver what it sets out to do.