Written and directed by Ben Anderson
Q Theatre, Auckland | February 28-March 9
It’s taken me a fair bit of time to unpack Just Above the Clouds and know exactly what I think of it. It’s a surreal, abstract slice of theatre that I find hard to get into personally, but it’s also a charming and sometimes strikingly poignant show that engages with the universal theme of not only a love lost, but a love that was only just lost.
Just Above The Clouds, written and directed by Ben Anderson and presented by The People Who Play With Theatre, is a play with puppets. The two central characters, ‘Boy’ and ‘Girl’, are played by puppets manipulated by Seamus Ford and Jessie McCall respectively, who also lend their voices to the puppets. The girl is trying to get through to the boy’s concrete heart, as represented by a literal concrete heart at the back of stage which is chipped away as the play progresses. Ford and McCall are great in these roles; they’re enormously expressive not only when you’re watching them, but the puppets as well, which are gorgeously fragile and eye-catching.
A lot of the charm of the show comes from the spectacle surrounding the boy and the girl. All manner of lights, debris, and set are carried on, moved around and carried off by other actors, who make their presence felt without being imposing. It’s a credit to both the cast and Anderson’s direction that all three chorus members, Cyan Corwine, Amanda Tito, and Mark Mockridge, are entirely in sync with each other, even while being utterly delightful to watch. There is also a semi-villainous/semi-friendly Cloud played by Chye-Ling Huang, who is a definite highlight of the show. It’s here that Anderson’s writing really takes off, where some wicked puns disguise something heavier beneath it.
For me the selling point of Just Above the Clouds is the spectacle. It’s a show where you’ll never be bored by what’s happening onstage; whether it’s the chorus carrying floating lights around (which is a lot more stunning that I’m making it sound) or a surprisingly touching moment where debris washes down a river. Anderson’s dialogue is less strong, and sometimes leans into indie film preciousness, which makes me wonder what this show would be like if it were entirely silent—the actors and puppets are appealing enough to sell what the show is telling us—but a scene towards the end of the play is so affecting that I’d hate to lose it.
Although Just About the Clouds is not the kind of theatre that generally draws me in, I was won over by Anderson’s willingness to engage with serious issues, like the struggle between letting go of grief and letting go of love, without ever being didactic about it. Charming, poignant, touching, intelligent. Go see it!