REVIEW: Just Above the Clouds (The People Who Play with Theatre)

Cirrusly Funny [by Sharu Delilkan]

clouds
Just Above the Clouds

As we entered the theatre we couldn’t help notice the set’s striking resemblance to Roger Waters’ legendary concert’s Berlin Wall setting, the only difference being that it was the “paper sky” version. Opening with cubist fireflies making up the cloud aspect of the show title, the a capella vocal sounds and repetition set the tone for the imaginative movement, propism, puppetry and storytelling we experienced tonight.

Written and directed by Ben Anderson this show worked on many levels due to its utter simplicity but also by the fact that the sky was never the limit.

Anderson, who is known for his vivid imagination through his recent productions of This Kitchen is Not Imaginary and The Suicidal Airplane, uses concrete as a metaphor to great effect when describing a charming and sometimes macabre love story. As such a pickaxe (Amanda Tito) is naturally part of the 8-strong ensemble cast.

The puppets themselves, which I suspect Anderson had a big part in making alongside his co-set designer Britney Pilling, are amazingly lifelike. The care and precision with which the Boy character (Seamus Ford) and the Girl character (Jess Sayer) are astutely supported by the chorus (Hayley Brown, Cole Jenkins, Mark Mockridge and Katrina Wesseling) is the core of the show.

As a woman who is “invariably right” whenever we have an argument as a couple I found Anderson’s dialogue between the lead characters very insightful. The lines were ones you could hear being spoken out loud in every day life – a sign of great writing. As a love story, the dialogue was distilled from acute observation of the awkward interaction between two people getting to know each others’ strengths, weaknesses and anomalies.

I caught myself nudging my husband seated beside me on several occasions merely because these insightful moments well and truly hit the nail on the head. I also really liked Anderson’s uncanny ability to tag on humour to the most mundane of conversations – something that is becoming his trademark in terms of the meter he is able to create throughout the piece. In addition the Cloud’s (Chye-Ling Huang) character as the conscience for the Boy was a genius device. Numerous meteorological puns ensued and the ensemble cloud system was reminiscent of a Sesame Street-like Big Bird of wisdom.

The thread of the story, told through exquisite puppetry was very witty and clever. The puppets having to heave themselves onto the stage, along with their realistic clumsiness and lack of poise was brilliant.

Clouds apart, the story’s conclusion still remained somewhat foggy in my mind, but like fog maybe I’m just a bit thick sometimes. The use of epic poetry about two-thirds way through the show definitely made me think that we were witnessing some sophisticated writing. However for me it was the soundscape created by the ensemble voices, the acting and puppetry that distinguished the show, and stretched the imagination.

In short Just Above the Clouds is funny, intelligent, stunningly multi-layered both visually and vocally. It is a piece that’s both witty and thoughtful at the same time with excellent portrayal of human relationships in all their charm and absurdity. Definitely a show that is first rate for a second date.

The People Who Play with Theatre present Just Above the Clouds and plays at The Basement until 8 February. More information at The Basement

SEE ALSO: Theatreview.org.nz review by Nik Smythe.

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