Having a younger sibling is never easy when you’re young. The attention you once had from your parents is directed to someone else, and whilst the parental love is still there, it’s not an easy adjustment. In Night Light by Paper Balloon, nine-year-old Marina decides she needs to get away from her new baby brother and flies to the moon to seek out adventures. It’s not as uninhabited as she first thought, and she makes friends whilst encountering the darker side of the planet.
Paper Balloon’s child-based storytelling in Night Light blends together songs, puppetry and music to get across the story. Whilst it shows that this company clearly can stretch itself across different mediums, it does mean that some areas of the production fall short.
From the outset there is an inventive use of sound through Darren Clark’s microphone skills as he narrates the story and adds sounds affects with his ever-changing beatboxing and rhythms. Whilst Clark is present throughout the performance at the side of the stage, I worry that the varying voice-overs and sound affects act as a form of disengagement with the story for the younger audiences. As the voice of ‘Euston’, the control station on earth, it’s hard to associate this with a physical character – when playing to a young audience this association is needed for them to engage fully.
Luckily, Kirstin Coulter Smith and Dori Kinnear give a much-needed physical grounding to the characters of Marina and the Moon. Both Smith and Kinnear offer an endless stream of energy and commitment to the piece, making them easily likable. There are some excellent bum-wiggling and face-pulling moments that can only be described as laugh-out-loud worthy. They both excel as performers, but it’s a shame that their vocal abilities mean that some of the songs lack punch in their otherwise flawless performances.
The story as a whole is rather imaginative, with plenty of adventure for children, but Alex Kanefsky’s script does make Night Light rather text focused. Whilst imaginative in style and presentation, I can’t help but to feel that Paper Balloon should look again at their piece in relation to age suitability. Kanefsky’s text certainly contains moments that allow adults to join in the fun, but overall Night Light is certainly not suitable for four year olds. The company do their best throughout the engage the children, helped by Katie Boon’s clear direction, but there is something missing in this production. Given some more time and work, I’m sure future work from Paper Balloon will be wowing audiences old and young, but for now Night Light offers potential but doesn’t keep children from looking a little bemused in this out-of-space adventure.