Fly me to the moon . . . in a cardboard box rocket


Mission to the Moon

Birmingham Hippodrome


Five dancers who double up as acrobats, circus arialists, add a touch of pole dancing amid a job lot of cardboard boxes with a background of an hour or so of audio-visual wizardry to overload the imagination – and that pretty well sums up Starchitects.

Oh and did I mention the alien, sort of like the jack-in-a-box in BRB’s Nutcracker who has been overdoing the steroids.

Just four legs . . .arms . . . tentacles . . . who knows? Each stretching concertina-like pretty well forever with what appeared to be an eye at the end of each . . . thing as it sort of galumphed around the stage threatening our gallant starchitects, that is threatening as much as four flailing . . . things with all the elegance and nimbleness of a drunken pig in a gale could manage.

Younger audience members delighted in the harmless, fun fear it generated, while up the age scale, some approaching the top end, could marvel at Sophie Donaldson’s creation and costume designs.

This is Leamington Spa based Motionhouse’s first family show and it has pulled off that delicate balancing act of creating a show that appeals to both today’s tots and those whose long passed tottery is now nearer tottering.

My six year old grandson and his 11-year-old brother thought it was brilliant while I enjoyed something fresh, imaginative and different, and with more than half a century of reviewing to call on, that is saying something.

The premise is simple. Five children, dancers Berta Contijoch, Olly Bell, Alex de la Bastide, Dylan Davies and Chris Knight – it could be any five from the 11 strong ensemble - who arrive in what appears to be a playroom full of big cardboard boxes on a set designed by Simon Dormon.


Alien alert

And as any parent, grandparent, aunt, uncle etc knows, cardboard boxes are . . . anything you want them to be. We had castles, forts, ships, trains and, perhaps most inventive of all, a roller coast ride as well as sawing a lady, and two boxes, in half.

Then there was the telescope to observe the moon and a cardboard rocket to take us there where our intrepid heroes combat rock falls, what appear to be lava flows, the galumphing alien and all manner of trials and tribulations before arriving back in the playroom, presumably just in time for tea.

The dance is energetic, at times drifting towards gymnastics and in tumbles and falls from height, or on vertical poles and horizontal bars which appear from the back wall, the dance morphs into circus. A forever changing kaleidoscope of movement all to a musical score at times driving and insistant, at times lyrical, from Tim Dickinson and Sophy Smith.

The whole piece is set off by a stage wide and high rear wall of vertical blinds which act as both a video screen and a fluid wall that allows cast to enter or leave, sometimes by diving, through its fabric.

The screen is a backdrop to everything designed by Barret Hodgson with digital imagery by Logela Multimedia.

There are some clever touches, such as when one dancer kicks the screen and we get the image of a slinky flowing away, or live actors pulling a video window blind down, and one technically magical moment when a small space rocket is projected on to the base of a box which is slowly passed along through the cast to simulate movement, never moving from the centre of the box, worth a round of applause on its own.

It is a production with something for everyone, fast paced, inventive, and relying on that greatest of all special effects, a child’s imagination. It a visual and technical feast and if there is a fault it is that there is no character children can cheer for or adults can take to heart, we can admire, marvel and applaud, but perhaps a bit more heart might round off an already marvellous show.  

The production is devised by the artistic director Kevin Finnan, with choreography and ideas from the ensemble, with Daniel Massarella the creative assistant and Birmingham’s Junior Cunningham the rehearsal director.

It closes tonight (04-02-23) and goes on tour, including dates in Denmark, and is back in the Midlands at Lichfield Garrick 5-6 April, 2023.

Roger Clarke


Index page Hippodrome Lichfield Garrick Reviews A-Z Reviews by Theatre