REVIEW: Alvin Sputnik (Auckland Fringe)

Adventures of Alvin Sputnik
Alvin Sputnik: Seriously, go see this show.

Deep Sea Theatre Magic

Adventures of Alvin Sputnik
Alvin Sputnik: Seriously, go see this show.

The Adventures of Alvin Sputnik: Deep Sea Explorer is a very special show. Using live performance, wonderful cartoon animation, and simple puppetry, the show’s creator and performer Tim Watts keeps the audience enthralled for 45minutes.

 I can see why the show has been compared to Pixar: like UP, within the first minutes there is an affecting death. The show’s opening uses simple animation, displayed on a round screen, to quirkily introduce us to the premise of the show: The sea has risen, billions have died, few survive. And though it is about loss on an unbelievable scale, he focuses us into Alvin Sputnik’s personal loss when his wife dies. Tim Watts embodies our hero here, singing a simple and affecting song to his dying wife, that tells us in very few words everything we need to know about their love and relationship. A light (manipulated first by Watts) escapes from her body, and then on the animation screen we see it travel down into the sea. It is one of the many remarkable moments of integration between what’s happening live, and the animated screen. It is really rather clever.

Alvin Sputnik joins up with a mission to find a new place to live under the sea, but really wants to travel under water to find his wife. Watts comes on with a bushy moustache and British military demeanour to explain the mission. It’s ridiculous and something out of a fairy tale (although inspired by theories people used to believe); somewhere through an underwater volcano is a hollow earth that Alvin must find, then bring back up to the surface by doing something with his boots.

That’s when Alvin dons his deep sea diving suit and we are introduced to the star of the show – the Alvin Sputnik puppet. Tim’s gloved hand is his arms and legs, and a ball with a shining light is a helmet. I watch Alvin move with wonder, taken in. He’s got lots of personality, inquisitive, and even does a disco dance for us.

Dealing with loss, the play contains much sadness. Alvin encounters bodies under the water when he explores the sunken ruins of cities. They might appear as stick figures on the screen, but there is something very real about that. There are many teary eyes at the show’s finish. Having just this week encountered such terrible news from Christchurch, it made the subject matter even more sombre. The show, thankfully, is uplifting and cathartic. A gift to the audience.

Alvin is simple tale, told beautifully. The play between puppets and technology focuses our attention, and by drawing us completely out of our world, and immersing the audience in this blue lonely place, the story and experience is even more powerful. The composed soundtrack adds so much to the mood, and the song choices are fantastic – Mika’s Happy Endings is particularly elevating.

 Tim Watts makes us care deeply and completely about a puppet that is little more than a glorified hand and ball. That’s theatre magic.

Make sure you read my earlier blog post where I previewed the show and interviewed Tim Watts.

The Adventures of Alvin Sputnik: Deep Sea Explorer plays as part of the Auckland Fringe Festival at the Basement Theatre until 1st March.

More information on the Auckland Fringe Website.

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