When Purni Morell took over the artistic direction of The Unicorn Theatre there was an air of excitement over the work and artists which she could bring across from her time leading the National Theatre Studio. Something Very Far Away, a piece first developed under Morell’s leadership by Mark Arends and Matthew Robins at the NT Studio is given a full mounting in the studio at The Unicorn Theatre, and rightly so. A tale of heartbreaking beauty and tender loss, which travels to the outer depths of space in the search of universal answers to love and life. Whilst billed for ages eight and above, it could render any adult blubbering into their tissues. It is a production of epic proportions told in miniature puppets and animations.
Robins is no stranger to giving a quirky story a twist of animated life; his continuous adventures with Fly Boy (yes, a boy who is a fly) have been running for several years, played with a band of musical players and puppeteers. Whilst Arends may not be known for his creative style, his work with Katie Mitchell in recent years in productions such as The Cat in the Hat and Beauty and the Beast have clearly edged him into the fun-filled quirkiness of thinking imaginatively with theatre. Something Very Far Away, at just 35 minutes long, is a wonderfully inventive and playful piece written and directed by Arends with puppetry and design by Robins – a delightful collaborative pairing.
The story is extremely simplistic but this makes it even more endearing. Kepler, after losing his wife Tomasina in a tragic circus accident, sets about building a rocket in his home that will fly him to a distant planet. For it is only by seeing into outer space, will he be able to see the past that has been. Kepler travels for light years, stopping at planets and gazing back at the world he left behind. He even reaches the end of the universe (it’s still under construction) in his quest for the enduring the love he once had. Poetic, silent and beautifully emotive, this tender tale is lovingly played out for its audience through projection, animation and simple puppetry.
Similar to Robins’s previous work, and touching on filmic qualities of another puppetry company The Paper Cinema, Something Very Far Away uses cameras and layering of rod and shadow puppetry to blend this poetic story. Through its simplistic nature, which has a rough-around-the-edges and hand-made quality to it, we get lost in Kepler’s tale, perfectly manipulated by the puppeteers against live guitar and recorded soundtracks. The piece is inherently a silent one, but the tale is clear and the themes universal.
It’s great to see a show aimed at young people aged revelling some of the more complex emotions that we humans experience. The loss of a loved one is never easy, and here I speak as someone who has recently been bereaved, but in Something Very Far Away is is never played down, never simplified for the audience’s sake; it is, as grief is, simple and honest, a declaration of love that is universal and endless. For those who do take young children there is nothing to fear in this work, it should be celebrated for its level of maturity and beauty.
Something Very Far Away is playing at the Unicorn Theatre until 24 June. For more information and tickets, see the Unicorn Theatre website.