Reviewed by Melanie Hering
A Page One Theatre production
Reviewed at the Little Angel Theatre
For ages 3-6
Stepping into the Little Angel Theatre, on the first proper snow day of the year, is like entering a dream world. The audience are greeted by a gentle, calm atmosphere, accompanied by a beautiful soundtrack. The stage is empty, apart from a whole host of balloons, and a performer (Stefanie Sommer) fast asleep on a giant white orb.
The show’s title – Rise and Fall – implies contradictions: ups and downs, pushes and pulls. Sommer begins to move, as do the balloons around her: call and response. Who first initiates the movement, and who follows?
As Sommer begins to mimic the movements of the large bouncy orb, I overhear a little girl in the audience whisper: “magic”. Could it be that Sommer is playing with the moon?
Rise and Fall has no clear narrative thread; Sommer breathes life into supposedly inanimate objects, guiding their interactions. There is a symbiosis between Sommer and the balloons. She has conversations with them, plays games, follows them or is followed by them. It is a delight watching a relationship develop between the two. An ongoing process of transformation unfolding on the stage.
There is something inherently playful and familiar about a balloon: the mere joy of holding one on a string and having it bob next to you. The balloons on stage perform multiple functions: they are versatile canvases for the audiences’ imaginations to project onto. The show is non-verbal, making it accessible to a wider audience, and giving further space for the audience’s own interpretation.
From a sleepy beginning, all the balloons ‘come alive’ throughout the show. As the stage lights turn green, suddenly we are in a forest, and the balloons are tiny bud-like plants.
Following her performance, Sommer stays on stage, inviting the audience to join her and interact with the balloons themselves. Now we are all performers too – on stage, with lighting and music – and, under our guidance, the balloons become wings, hats, dogs, cats, telephones…
Rise and Fall is an abstract dance theatre piece aimed just as much at delighting the imaginations of the young audience as the adults accompanying them. The minimalist aesthetic of the piece, as well as the soundtrack, feels like a subtle antidote to many more commercial forms of entertainment that are on offer for children and families. Rise And Fall is embedded in a new type of children’s theatre which really allows young people to develop their own relationship with, interpretation of, and response to, performance. It is a unique, poetic, physical theatre experience.