At the End of Everything Else
Several of our theatres have been at the forefront of companies trying to be green and limit their ecological impact, the Unicorn among them, and this 45-minute Unicorn commission, aimed at age 8+ takes that endeavour further.
Once the audience leaves the Unicorn’s foyer to enter the Clore Theatre, everything they experience is powered by human muscle, that of the performers and the stage management. The whirring wheels of pedal-powered static bicycles or hand turned generators are a gentle accompaniment to the whole show.
At the End of Everything Else is a simple story about a girl called Icka whose been brought up by her dad. Icka only survived after being linked up to all sorts of machines in the hospital. Sadly, her mum died and though she often thinks about her she never knew her.
Dad is a writer and his favourite book is about Icarus, the boy who flew up into the sky. Icka has her own Big Book of Feathers. It is not surprising then that when she finds a little bird who has lost his mother she careful picks him up and takes him home.
She raises him and teaches him how to fly, cleverly attaching some of her feather collection to her bicycle to give it wings. All goes well until one day the bird, whom she calls Tito, flies off and doesn’t come home as usual. She goes off in search of him.
What she finds, after circling the world, is one of the world’s great ecological disasters and Icka does something about it, rescuing Tito, though not without the help of the audience.
This isn’t a play that is acted out in the usual way. It is a piece of excellent storytelling that is illustrated with shadow puppetry (and some live shadows too) played out over a projected stop motion animation by John Horabin.
The audience not only sees the moving image, projected on the rear wall of the theatre, but through the darkness can all see the intricate shadow making and other means of bringing this story to life as around them wheels whir and feet pedal. It is fascinating to watch and discover how Icka blinks her eye and whose hand is hers, the little model bicycle on which she speeds along and all the other devices and simple technologies that produce this skilfully contrived presentation.
It is beautifully done and the young primary school children with whom I saw it were enraptured, especially those who helped power the generators to make sure there was enough light for the rest of us to leave by.
However, it is counter to the performance’s message about the need to protect the planet against plastic waste to suggest that the problem can be solved as easily as Icka’s action suggests. Dealing with the plastic Great Pacific Garbage Patch is going to take much more than flapping our wings and that needs to be made clear or At the End of Everything Else is in danger of undermining the very message it sets out to carry.
Writer, director and composer Arends has created a lively show but should rethink this element. Meanwhile performers Amrita Acharia, Avye Leventis, Tim Lewis and Tim Whybrow, Production and Stage Managers Phil Clarke and Julia Slienger are doing a terrific job, aided by Declan Randall’s lighting and the engineering of Colin Tonks for Electric Pedals.
Reviewer: Howard Loxton