Edinburgh Fringe 2015
Alfie White is crazy about space. And his dad is training to be the first man on the moon. At least that’s what Alfie tells his schoolmates. In fact, Alfie’s dad has disappeared without trace… Together with his best friend Meg, Alfie sets out on a daring mission to find his dad. But where on earth – or in space – is he?
I was utterly charmed by Alfie White: Space Explorer, right until the end, but we’ll get to that later. Alfie White has a problem; his Dad is gone, disappeared, because he’s an astronaut, or so Alfie has told his friends. But Alfie is in a bit of a pickle, since he’s completely, well almost completely, well, he’s pretty sure he’s completely fabricated a bit of a lie about his missing dad.
From the moment I walked into the theatre and saw the huge outer space bedroom set, I was charmed. The set, cleverly utilized throughout so clearly emulated childhood and the imagination of space exploration that I couldn’t quite wipe the smile off my face, remembering my own childhood fantasies of walking the moon and landing on Mars.
The simple story; Alfie’s mom is gone, Alfie’s Dad has disappeared and Alfie lives with his Gram, sets up the perfect adventure of mystery and discovery for even the most inquisitive minds of any five to ten year old. Using stylized movement and an incredibly detailed and imaginative set, Alfie takes us from his daily routine to and from school to his grand adventures on a search for his disappeared Dad.
With costumes and a gorgeous musical score which so clearly grounds this show in the 1960s, Alfie White does give a little, subtle but well researched historical context to space exploration and some of my favorite moments are seeing Alfie and his partner utilizing some pretty extensive physical acting chops to create the world of imagination.
I think one of the things which makes this production stand out is the acting which is heightened and cartoonlike, with standout performances by both Jordan Turner as the wide eyed, relatably awkward Alfie and the cornucopia of characters Alfie encounters, Lucy Tuck, evoking the feeling of a good old fashioned storybook hour hitting just the right notes to keep children and parents engaged without ever devolving into the land of condescension.
There are some very well thought out moments from history and a few modern tongue in cheek asides meant to entertain parents and the multi-level and as revealed by the show, multi-dimensional set were a true innovation to this production. The story is charming; the acting, nuanced and the sound scape enchanting giving Alfie White much to recommend it with one simple caveat.
I would be remiss if I simply overlooked the ending. Alfie White offers a false yet far more satisfying ending than that of the show. I do not wish to give too much away so, no spoilers here, but the last five minutes or so of the show truly left this reviewer scratching her head, wondering what sort of a mixed message of parental abandonment the playwright meant to impart. As this is an original story and not an adaptation as one might think from the immensely well-constructed, sparkling writing, I was left unsatisfied and confused by the second ending which though it was a “big reveal”, felt like a huge misguided misstep, very off message for a children’s production. That being said, there are a truly enjoyable 50 minutes of this show and I would recommend enjoying them. Just be prepared from some questions later.