AWESOME Review: Windmill Theatre, Beep ·
Octagon Theatre, UWA, 12 October ·
Review by Lydia Edwards ·
On the day we were due to see Beep, the new production from South Australia’s Windmill Theatre Co, my three year old daughter had already watched the trailer over a dozen times. Protagonist Beep, the squat, big-eyed robot who arrives from a dying planet, had stolen her heart: and we were still several hours away from the show.
Once inside the Octagon Theatre and seated on large beanbags at the front, her demeanour changed. “Will it be scary?” she asked, looking up at the movable wooden set with its green grass, and fluffy, bulbous tree with windows in each puff. It might have been right out of Dr Seuss’ Lorax, a comparison which became more marked as the story commenced.
Once the three narrators and puppeteers were on stage, however, my daughter’s face lit up. This engaging trio both run the show and blend into the background when the puppets take centre stage. They seamlessly transport the audience into the world of Mort, his little sister Pop, and an assortment of cute characters who live a life of cosy routine and predictability.
With the sudden arrival of Beep, however, comes a line to strike recognition into the heart of both young and old in the audience: but for markedly different reasons. “Nobody had any answers”, the narrator explains, for Beep’s presence in their world… “so they decided to be afraid”. Children will take this at face value. Many adults, I suspect, can’t help but link it to the stateless and homeless trying to make safe passage through the world, and the hostile reactions with which they are too frequently met. To “decide” to be afraid is a pointed and devastating choice, and it plays out just as badly for Beep, shivering and frightened in the storm.
Of course, Beep makes a friend in Mort, and by the end of the play she has found her new forever home with him. On the journey there the creatures discover that she has a lot to offer their community, especially when she turns an already delicious “molly melon” into an even tastier cake. Later, she uses the last of her battery power to save Pop, who is stuck up in the tree.
We are aware from the start that each day Beep’s battery, viewable through a series of lights on her belly, is dwindling. In another beautiful twist to contemporary turmoil, it is recharged through a tiny windmill placed on her head, powered through a surge of wind that is provided by the audience flapping their arms. By this point we have already learned that Beep was forced to leave her home planet because it “started to darken, and it wasn’t safe to stay”. (I don’t think I have to spell out the contemporary links here).
These darker themes are not overt, not preachy, and not necessarily even at the heart of this gentle, fantastically staged story. But they are undeniably present, and I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to see Beep as a climate refugee, showing her new community that she brings worlds of experience to benefit them. Monosyllabic, tolerant Mort is summed up well by one of the closing lines: “There’s room in Mort’s heart for everyone, old friends and new.”
“I want it again!” said my daughter as we left the auditorium. If Beep should fly into Perth another day, I think we will definitely be up for a second viewing. I just hope her words of warning will carry a less urgent sting by then.
Top image: Luke Cardew