Rocket Girl

Steve Byron
Alphabetti Theatre and The Worriers
Alphabetti Theatre, Newcastle

Jude Nelson as Georgina Stephenson
Jude Nelson as Georgina Stephenson
Jude Nelson as Georgina Stephenson
Jude Nelson as Georgina Stephenson
Jude Nelson as Georgina Stephenson
The Set

I bet you didn’t know that the moon is made of toffee (although there are some who claim it’s pease pudding, but take no notice of them; they’re wrong). It's all claggy on the inside but burnt into cinder toffee on the surface thanks to the fire-breathing dragons who live there!

I really do love children’s theatre, not only because of the delightfully surreal stories it can tell, but also, I have to admit, because I get as much pleasure out of seeing the kids’ reactions as I do watching the play!

This afternoon, for example, before the show started, the little girl next to me told her doll, “this is exciting!” Then, at one point, when our heroine was knocked unconscious, the lights all went out and a little voice from the other side of the audience announced, “the lights have gone out!” Then, when they came back on, the same little voice informed us, “the lights have come back on!”

We adult theatregoers forget how everything is new and unexpected, even magical, for the little ‘uns!

Rocket Girl is the story of 9-year-old Georgina Stephenson, big sister of George who invented the railway engine. With a series of dams and new channels, she invents a way of diverting water from flooding the local pit where her dad works, of making that water flow uphill and, after defeating an invading group of boys from the next village, of travelling to the moon on her rocket, created from, among other things, a forge bellows, an anvil pedestal, a tin bath, a battered old bucket and other similar materials, all powered by steam—and her nana’s nettle wine!

Her nana is the local blacksmith, the best for miles around, even though, when she was young, everyone said a girl couldn’t possibly be a blacksmith. She showed ‘em!

So we have a cast made up of Georgina, brother George, their nana, their dad, other miners, farmers, cows (yes, cows!), the four boys from Ovingham, Man-Eater (a vicious huge dog) and, of course, a moon-inhabiting dragon.

The settings include the forge, the pit, the countryside, an orchard, up a tree, outer-space and—of course! Obviously!—the moon. A truly Monsterist production!

Except that it isn’t! Monsterist, that is. The story is told by a flexible set (by Mollie Barrett), some subtle sound effects (Nick Tyler), some recorded voice-over (Paula Penman), effective lighting (Louise Gregory), but most especially by Steve Byron’s words and the storytelling skills and physicality of actress Jude Nelson, all woven together by co-directors Ali Pritchard and Matt Jamie.

And it is told well. All around the stage (Alphabetti uses a thrust configuration), the kids were riveted, eyes focused on Nelson as she climbed over, under and around the set, listening intently to what she said as she told her story. They sat transfixed for about an hour. And there was laughter too, not just from the kids but from the adults as well, always a sign of a well-written and performed piece.

The audience loved it and there was a concerted rush by the kids to join the free Everyone’s an Inventor workshop by Little Inventors in the bar. They certainly had a good time!

And they learned an important lesson too. A girl can be just as good an inventor as a boy. Or perhaps even better! I mean, a railway engine's OK, but a rocket to the moon... Now that is special!

Reviewer: Peter Lathan

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