Captain Amazing is the story of a superhero and a puppet. Like all good stories, it needs a good guy and a bad guy, a villain hellbent on destroying the world with his nuclear missile.
Mark (Adam Trussell) is both characters and more, until an unwanted pregnancy comes along. Suddenly he is both a superhero and a dad, having to think about responsibilities and teach daughter Emily (puppet by Jessica Warshaw) about the world. Mother and father grow apart, and Mark struggles to cope with the pressure – these are problems that can’t be disintegrated with laser beams from your eyes. Alistair McDowall’s Captain Amazing switches between fantasy and fatherhood, a surrealist tale that centres itself inside Mark’s head.
Luke Howarth directs Alistair McDowall’s Captain Amazing as part of the Stomping Ground Festival, a Young Director’s training programme set up by StoneCrabs Theatre Company. Howarth is the first in the festival to stage his play in the round, something that all the directors this evening decide. With this decision comes new challenges – audience perspective, angles, and sight lines are key. Howarth’s blocking has moments in which too much is impeded, intimate scenes in bed between father and daughter that are lost in their intricacy.
But the set is a simple yet effective one – cardboard boxes as bombs and paper flowers. The message is to allow the audience to imagine the environment, one step towards buying into the fantasy of the comic book world. Warshaw’s puppet is key to the action; a little girl reminiscent of the Pixar lamp, she conveys thought with simple movement, no face to detract from the more complex of human emotions. (As a child, aren’t her emotions meant to be simple and easy to read?)
The second portion of the production is stronger than the first. Scenes between father and child have a more emotional pull, more competent physical performances, and a better sense of pace. The opening is so outlandish that it needs absolute precision in order to be effectively executed – Trussell doesn’t clearly define each personality and as such lacks distinction. The physical transformation is there, but the speed at which he jumps between characters leaves the audience lost in the dialogue, not paying attention to the situation.
Howarth has some well-conceived accents towards the end of Captain Amazing. The dynamic shifts and the façade slowly slips to reveal a desperate, depressed, and potentially deranged father struggling to cope. The final moments done in complete silence are an anti-climax however. Not dissimilar to an issue seen earlier in the festival (Emily Marshall’s direction of Counting Stars) the impact of silence needs to be preceded by an immense build-up to insinuate a climactic explosion of sound – simply cutting the sound with the intention of focussing everything on Trussell in fact has the opposite effect.
Captain America is a twisted fantasy that falls to earth with a bump. Howarth exhibits a good handle over the script and its meaning; with some development, there is a clever production that can spring forth here.
Captain Amazing played The Albany as part of Stomping Ground Festival on 17 March.