The endlessly inventive theatre company Collapsing Horse have produced their first play for 4-6 year-olds.
Director Dan Colley uses puppetry and animation to tell the story of a young boy and his star-loving grandfather who together, with their telescope, explore space from a distance. One day Conor’s grandfather decides to make a rocket, but by the time he is finished, he is too frail for an adventure, so Conor must take up the mantle and head off into space, to the end of the universe, on his own.
The show is primarily non-verbal, and the pace is slow. The swirling stars and spinning planets that provide the animated backdrop are mesmeric, but my 4 (and three-quarters!) year-old found the abstract nature of the story-line and the telling to be a frustrating combination. A good 10 minutes could be shaved from the performance, and the gestures from puppeteers Manus Halligan & Maeve O’Mahony need to be larger. We saw the show on its very first outing, so hopefully the pacing issues will be resolved as it tours the country. The final ten minutes, meanwhile, when the children are invited on stage to see gravity at work are truly wonderful. We went home with our pockets full of ‘stars.’
I couldn’t help feeling, however, that the departing joy of the audience isn’t quite earned. With Dan Ford’s slow, magical soundtrack, the mood of the performance is certainly more sombre than playful. Conor at the End of the Universe is billed as an exploration of astrophysics and the wonders of the universe, but the conversations we had about the show were not about astrophysics but death. Is his grandfather dead? the child asked as Conor flew backwards through time. Is Conor dead? when he launched himself out of the spaceship into space – without a helmet! Without an oxygen tank!
We spent the car journey home talking about some of the not so wonderful realities of the universe.
Conor at the End of the Universe can be seen at Riverbank, Kildare // Oct 23rd; Linenhall, Mayo // Oct 28th – 29th; and The Ark, Dublin // Nov 9th – 13th.