Thursday 29 September 2022

WHALEBONE - Theatre Review

 WHAT: Whalebone

WHEN: 22 - 24 September 2022

WHERE: Theatreworks


Jens Altheimer

We all know how important stories are, and we know that history repeats when we don't keep track of our stories. In Whalebone Jens Altheimer aims to pass on the ideas of remembering and recycling to our younger, computer literate, high consumption next generation.

Altheimer is a Lecoq trained clown who brings a delightful dodderiness to his collection curator character. He is also a self-proclaimed tinkerer which is witnessed by the odd and amazing collection of trinkets and apparatus peppering the stage space. The junkyard/steampunk stories repository sits in juxtaposition to the swirling, geometric AV fractals projected onto a huge screen behind him.

With a premise similar to The Bureau of Magical Things, Altheimer has created a depository (or library) which retains the history embedded into the souls of everyday objects. He places objects like swimming caps in a contraption which scans and extrudes the life of that object so far, and stores it in his digital databank. He then takes said object and recycles it to create amazingly outrageous new devices.

One day an object just appears and he meets the first AI (artificial intelligence). Being an old school collector Altheimer resists the AI's demands for the password to the databank until it is attacked by malware and he needs all the help he can get. Of course, like all of us, he has trouble remembering the password and he must solve a complex puzzle he created to remember the password.

Altheimer has long experience with shows and installations for children and he ticks all the boxes. The most important one is getting the audience participating right from the beginning and keeping them involved to the very end - including the Q&A which is not your ordinary type of Q&A. He keeps the magic alive from beginning to end.

There is so much to love about Whalebone. The contraptions are creative and hilarious, he has paid excellent attention to the AV which is completely interactive across the whole show. 

Perhaps the most fun and beautiful thing is that he leans on science based magic. A master of kinetic energy, he powers machines with pedal power and has 'stories' flying around using air pressure and surface tension. The room is full of magic but there is no doubt for a single second that science and physics are the wizard's wand making it all happen.

It is exciting to see a quality children's show which isn't all about primary colours and oversized moulded plastic. If I had a criticism it would be that Altheimer himself might be erring slightly on the side of being too doddery and could lift the pace a fraction. Having said that, there are a lot of moving parts to this show so maybe a little caution is called for because in a show like Whalebone everything has to work - and it does, which is the true miracle! I also wonder if there couldn't be a little attention paid to explaining why remembering is important just to create a context.

The true measure of any show is the conversations which take place afterwards and I heard some great discussions. One boy was debating what is good AI and what is bad AI. I heard another parent explaining the show as a cautionary tale to her little girl. I would place bets on every one of the children in the audience going home and insisting their parents let them try juggling balloons with the hairdryer! 

If Whalebone comes to a theatre near you this is the kind of show your kids will love. It is full of junk, fantastical objects, artificial intelligence, drama, thrills, puzzle solving - and a couple of kids even get a bit of exercise as they help provide the peddle power to get the gadgets going!

4 Stars

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