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Tech wizardry doesn’t deliver

Review: Bandart Productions, Ann-Droid ·
Heath Ledger Theatre ·
Review by David Zampatti ·

It’s strange. Two Awesome Festival shows, Ruby’s Wish and Ann-Droid, have much in common, and yet are worlds apart.

Both feature animation wizardry, both deal with death and the fear of death, and both explore the world of dreams. But while Ruby’s Wish is engrossing, emotional and captivating, Ann-Droid is distant, distancing and cold.

Despite (or perhaps because of) all its technical skill, it reminded me of watching someone else playing The Legend of Zelda.

And I wasn’t alone. The young audience, who had been so transfixed throughout Ruby’s Wish, became increasingly wormy and distracted as Ann-Droid’s animated landscapes rolled past and scenes and visual concepts repeated themselves.

The dovetailing of live and animated action is neatly done, but by then the kids were distracted.

To carry a fairly complex narrative in the absence of dialogue, much depends on the precision of the physical acting, and that wasn’t a feature of this production. Szabolcs Tóth-Zs’s gizmo-obsessed father is stilted and obvious.

The appeal of his character isn’t helped by a long introduction to the show’s technical assets, a robot fashioned from a rollator, a remote-controlled ball like a stripped down, lit up BB-8 from the Star Wars merch catalogue, and the tricks that could be done on an apparently touch-sensitive projection screen.

Tóth-Zs took us through all these tricks like a scruffy Steve Jobs at one of those gee-whiz Apple launches. It wasn’t as impressive as its creators clearly thought it was, and nowhere near enough for kids who see this kind of stuff daily.

There seems a chance for something more when, in a dream sequence, something terrible happens, and he builds a droid to replace, well maybe save, his daughter (there’s more than a bit of the Pinocchio story in all this).

Ann-Droid (Katalin Lengyel) is set on a quest, very like the aforementioned Zelda, to gather a pile of lost critters and so on. (I only discovered that this was what was going on from the show’s media release.)

Lengyel is a dab hand on roller-skates, and the dovetailing of live and animated action is neatly done, but by then the kids were distracted and their attendant adults were clock-watching.

The whole thing reminded me of nothing more than the Tin Man (who the Ann-Droid character resembled in more than just looks).

It was a bit stiff, it was a bit clumsy, but, worst of all, it didn’t have a heart.

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