Review: Aleksander and the Robot Maid
This review originally appeared on www.lowdown.net.au
Aleksander and the Robot Maid, Drop Bear Theatre’s new steam-punk adventure for children explores a technologically advanced age. But, instead of the future, we’re taken back to industrial-revolutionist Russia in an alternative history: one with robots.
Young Aleksander (Tim Kurylowicz) is moving from the country to the big city Robotica with his guardian Miss Katarina (Sarah Lockwood). Here, they never need work again: the robots will do everything they require. While Miss Katarina cannot wait for her life of relaxation and luxury, Alek isn’t so sure: what will he do all day, when he has nothing to do at all? Aunt Lychova (Margot Politis) warns Alek of the dangers of getting to close to the robots, under the care of the menacing Mr Whipp (Andrew Brackmann) and tells him to take his peppermints for his health. Left without a father after a robot-mishap, Alek is at first scared of the robots, but then befriends one he calls Daisy (Carolyn Ramsey, remarkably expressive as she jerks around the stage, head concealed in a cardboard box.). Aunt Lychova is less than supportive of this friendship, as she strives to make Robotica the utopia she dreams it to me.
For ages eight and up, Caleb Lewis’s script directed by Ali Gordon, is frequently quite menacing, but always maintains a steady heart through the burgeoning friendship of Alek and Daisy. Lewis deals with many familiar stands of work for children, exploring the ideas of who and what exactly is human; what makes us us, and what defines the other?
Marin Curach and Tomy K C Leung’s set is simple, initially, as just a single box is moved around the space to create the different locations, and the strength of the design in the illustrations melding the industrialist Russia with robots shown on overhead projector by Matt Huynh.
In the second half, though, as curtains are pulled away and the set can literally come to life, the excitement of the script is finally realised in an excitement of design. As it stands, the production would benefit from some significant tightening and a slightly faster pace. The piece is at is strongest as Alek moves towards finding out more about the hidden side of Robotica, the secrets kept by Aunt Lychova, and the threat of robot-handler Mr Whipp.
Occasionally, the play moves off this primary line, spending too much time away from the mystery and the friendship of Alek and Daisy. Additionally, some ideas aren’t fully explained in the current script: it is clear that the peppermints Aunt Lychova forces on Alek have some quality which perhaps discourages a connection with the robots, but their purported purpose or action isn’t explained.
These are minor quibbles though, in a play filled with heart and joy of young friendship and seeing through the lies of authority and differences in status. Lewis surrounds this story with darkness and fear, and while he and Gordon do take the piece in to some very scary places, it’s an exciting and invigorating type of fright, where Alek’s bravery sees them through the day.
Drop Bear Theatre and the Seymour Centre’s The Reginald present Aleksander and the Robot Maid by Caleb Lewis. Directed by Ali Gordon, composition by Scott Gillespie, design by Marin Curach and Tomy K C Leung, lighting design by Sophie Kurylowicz, Illustration by Matt Huynh, stage manager Lydia Nicholson. With Andrew Brackman, James Deeth, Tim Kurylowicz, Sarah Lockwood, Margot Politis and Carolyn Ramsey. In the Reginald Theatre. Season Closed.