Robot Song is one of the most refreshing and remarkable works I’ve seen in 25 years.
Arena Theatre Company has taken the musical genre, added spunk and a dose of post-modern “meta” attitude (metatude?), brought the vision to life with a creative blend of live music, thoughtful props, and a well-exploited smartboard, to draw us into a story that will hopefully breed resilience and kindness in all who experience it.
This show is worthy of much praise and first and foremost must go to the writer, Jolyon James, for crafting parent characters who are worth emulating. No cardboard cutout meanies or dipsies here, just caring parents engaged in their daughter’s life. Bravo! Thank you!
Ashlea Pyke owns the stage in the lead role of Juniper May, the young girl who loves maths and robots and is outcast by her timid, conventional “friends” at school.
Juniper’s relationship with her parents, particularly with her father, played by Philip McInnes, is central to this story. They adore and respect each other and it is pure joy to watch these actors and characters live their story on stage.
Intriguingly, Juniper has a habit of thinking out loud about her presence on stage and her presence within a musical, to the extent that she and “father” reveal the outline of a musical on the smartboard that becomes a versatile part of the set.
There is much intelligent banter in this show. Juniper’s rambling opening treats us to some of her admonishments of lazy use of language. For example, she scoffs at the saying of babies growing in their mummy’s tummy. No they don’t, she reminds us, they’d dissolve in the acid and die. It’s the uterus, she continues, that’s where we grow in our first months of life, that is where we exist without needing to breathe or remember to breathe.
Indeed, we are all encouraged to breathe and grow and note that the world does need us all to be different.
When Juniper receives a potentially soul-destroying letter from her schoolmates, banishing her from their social circle, her story teeters on the edge. By breathing, and through the thoughtful support of her father and her father’s beloved, Japanese robot hero, we all gain an important lesson.
Firstly, we are reminded that everything is made up, even stuff that is “real”. And, secondly, that while we might get dealt some nasty words, we actually have the prerogative to interpret them in helpful ways and with a little distance that comes from breathing first before reacting.
This DreamBIG Children’s Festival show held its young audience enthralled and kept them fully engaged as this bright protagonist shared her inner journey so elegantly.
And the music! This score is superb and so sublime that at times we do not even hear it, it is at one with all the other elements of this stellar production.
It is fitting, then, how Juniper’s observation that there are little words hidden inside bigger words yields the poignant revelation that the word “music” contains the word “us”. And the music most certainly held us together in a journey that not only respected its audience but portrayed characters in a healthy relationship respecting each other as they deal with the various challenges and opportunities of life.
Please see this show, no matter your age! The world needs theatre to be different, like this.