When I was first told about ‘Alpha X,’ I was tremendously excited. A futuristic, sci-fi puppet show about the dismal near future, aimed at children, is certainly an original idea. I was exceptionally more so excited when I saw the images of the dark and different style of puppets. Being a big fan of ‘A Nightmare Before Christmas’ and ‘The Corpse Bride’ by Tim Burton, I imagined this show to be a live version of these styles of films. Unfortunately this was not the case.
‘Alpha X’ is based on Mark Twain’s ‘The Prince and the Pauper’ but instead is set at the end of the 21st Century in Santiago. In this futuristic setting, there is a big divide between rich and poor. Basic resources such as air and water do not reach all. The air is completely contaminated, thus impossible to breathe. The entire city is under the control of one company, which owns all the resources.
The show tells the story of ‘Alpha’, the daughter of the most powerful man in Santiago, who by accident changes lives with ‘X’, a girl from the poorest depths of the devastated city. The switch occurs on their 16th birthday and allows them to see and experience things that they had never imagined before. This idea of a future of pollution, greed and societal divide is a common concept and a puppet show is a great idea for a way to portray this bleak futuristic concept along with the message of looking at things from a different angle. But unfortunately the puppeteers couldn’t handle the job.
The puppets were big, about 3 feet long, and were each controlled by their own puppeteer who put their feet into slippers that were attached to the puppets’ feet. The effect was that the puppet walked as the puppeteer walked. Sticks were attached to the puppets’ hands and also to the backs of their heads, which the puppeteers used to control the various parts of the puppets’ bodies. Each puppeteer had a microphone so each spoke for their own puppet, though the puppets mouths did not move. The fantastic design of the puppets could have meant a free human-like movement, however the puppeteers just did not seem experienced enough.
Firstly, the puppeteers were dressed in grey, which made them stick out like sore thumbs against a black background. Secondly, their movements were slow and minimal, when they could have been intensely expressive and humanistic. They seemed to have no energy, which is essential for children’s shows and especially for puppet shows. Thirdly, mistakes were made all over the place. For instance, if the puppet was supposed to be looking left, it was looking right. For me, this was my limit and at that point I was cringing in my seat.
The entire show was not fluid enough, meaning that the dialogue was dragging and not snappy, with long pauses in between the staged conversations. Ultimately, what the audience ended up focusing on was the puppeteers shuffling around on stage as if they were giant grey blind mice, constantly bumping into each other.
At first I thought it might have been me, not being a child, but I looked around the theatre after a painfully slow fifteen minutes into the show and saw the young children day dreaming, along with their guardians.
Despite these annoyances, the set was delightfully bright and eye-catching. One side was the poor slums, with grays, blues and greens all capturing the idea of a smog-infested city centre. On the other side was Alpha’s house with robots and lighter metallic colors, representing cleanliness and wealth. In the centre of the stage was a wide television screen that was effectively used as the background with landscape images setting each scene appropriately. It also sporadically showed cartoons of the puppets to tell certain parts of the story, like a chase scene, that would have otherwise been impossible using the puppets.
The entire stage setting and design certainly drew me in when I first sat down in the theatre. Along with the impressive audio-visual effects, “Alpha X” was an original show but with little success. All the elements were there, yet the puppeteers prevented the wonderfully designed Tim Burton-esque puppets from reaching their true Oscar-worthy potential, ultimately holding the play back from being successful.
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