Theatre criticism is always a collection of comments on an experience, but these thoughts usually apply to a production’s entire run – as a critic you’re usually commenting on one iteration in a series of near-identical pieces. With Blue Block Studio, any review will only be relevant for as long as the performance itself, as Starcatchers provide a space and the resources from which audience-participants craft a sensory experience wholly of their own making.
The studio is both sensory and stylish, with bright colours and geometric shapes dominating a tactile playground of soft play, mirrors, ribbons, wooden blocks and more. After the audience’s initial investigation of the environment, new elements are introduced – wind machines that blow discs of crepe paper through the air, bouncy balls that shoot down tube runs, material that is strung overhead and projected onto.
The adults and youngsters are free to explore as they like. If there is any guidance, it comes from the subtle auditory cues of Kim Moore’s music, which directs the mood and feeling of the experience. In the performance I saw, when the music was louder and more percussion-heavy, everyone in the space was louder, and when it quietened down, so did they. A respectful hush fell, which was quite remarkable for such a young audience.
Starcatchers have certainly created a well-considered multi-sensory space for babies and adults to explore together. The conditions of the space are designed to encourage maximal relaxation – the more uninhibited the children and their grown-ups feel, the more expansive and free their exploration will be. On this particular occasion, some adults took a while to shed their self-consciousness, warming to the atmosphere over time rather than being quickly absorbed into it. This was in part due to the contingencies of the day, no doubt – the particular parents present, their idiosyncratic response to the show, their mood. But I also felt that the lighting may have been partly responsible – it was a white space in a very light, sun-strewn room, so everyone was somewhat exposed and on-view. In a darkened environment people may have felt more comfortable to engage in silliness and play (or just childlike curiosity) with their baby, rather than feeling conscious of their visibility and potential scrutiny by others. A darkened environment could also have leant more impact to elements like the changing lights, projections and the live-video playing on the wall. (It’s interesting to note that photos on some of the promotional material suggest that other performances have taken place in a darker space.)
Before entering Blue Block Studio, adults are told to pack shoes, bags, all unnecessary items into a box outside, instructed that they can feed their child in the room but are free to come and go should they need, and reminded that this is a 30-45 minute experience in an installation specially designed for this very young age range. Essentially, every distraction is literally left at the door, and the non-narrative structure makes it difficult to feel time passing. Blue Block Studio successfully achieves its ultimate aims – for babies to enjoy a high-quality creative experience, and for adults to relax and enjoy spending dedicated time with their baby.
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