Review written by Flossie Waite
A Filskit Theatre Production
Reviewed at Polka Theatre as part of Brain Waves Festival
For ages 3-7
In Bright Sparks, the question isn’t the number of people it takes to change a light bulb, but how they go about it. Links (Katy Costigan) and Rex (Victoria Dyson) have opposing approaches – Links lovingly cradles each bulb, cleaning them scrupulously before carefully screwing them back into position and turning them on with a gentle tap. Rex’s bulbs, however, are lucky to leave her grasp unscathed: she cleans them with a yellow duster that doubles as both hanky and hand puppet, and finds increasingly extravagant ways to light them. Links is methodical, logical; Rex is theatrical and imaginative. Divided initially by their contrasting work ethics and separated work stations (Rex commands the left section of bulbs, Link commands the right), they discover that – just like the brain – both sides are needed to get the job done.
As with previous Filskit productions, the play communicates sophisticated ideas with the company’s trademark combo of simplicity and acrobatic facial features, and it’s also just really funny. Links and Rex are like an old-school comedy double act, and the predominantly wordless production has a clowning quality that feels as if it’s straight from the silent movie greats. In the opening routine the diligent Links replaces a bulb before leaving the stage, whereupon a crafty Rex appears and steals it to use on her side. When Rex leaves, Links returns, realises what’s happened and grabs her bulb back; as soon as she’s gone again, Rex comes back and nicks it once more, and the two continue on like this for a little while. This is an effortless introduction to the characters’ personalities and relationship, and as the confusion continues it not only gets funnier, but also allows enough time for everyone in the young audience to not only ‘get’, but be able to predict, the joke – a sense of engagement with, and ownership of, the action that continues throughout Bright Sparks.
The rows of light bulbs that hang constantly overhead are surprisingly expressive and malleable representations of the brain’s role in the nervous system – their personalities and processes apparent with every pulsation, flicker and change of colour. They are sparking synapses that, as Links and Rex learn to work together, light up like neural networks. Bright Sparks also explores how different stimulants affect the brain, using light-up orbs with individual sounds (laughter, a crying baby and so on) that require processing into different boxes. It’s a less successful visual metaphor, and the time dedicated to it means that the production begins to feel a little long. Overall, however, Bright Sparks is exactly what it says – illuminating and sparky – with plenty of fun, artistry and, unsurprisingly, brains.
Children’s Theatre Reviews exists to help plug the gap in criticism and writing about theatre for young audiences. It is run entirely voluntarily, and needs support to continue covering and supporting the sector. For more information and to help give children’s theatre the voice it deserves, please visit our Patreon page.