Alphabet Soup (Theatre Works) – theatre review

As an arts lover and reviewer, I try to enter a theatre without knowing anything about the production I’m about to see. It’s usually possible by steering clear of promotional guff. I like to be surprised and hopefully engaged by what I see through fresh eyes. In that way, I feel I can tell whether a show makes sense and moves me. I say that as a forerunner to my pleasant surprise at the combination of mime and sound effects in Alphabet Soup.

Photo: Pippa Samaya

I can’t say I’ve seen a lot of mime – bits and pieces, including the incomparable Marcel Marceau. As for sound effects, they’re often the domain of radio ads, or saved for movie blockbusters. In Alphabet Soup, Holly Austin uses her hands, body, mouth and a beat-box to transport the audience. Not all of it is readily understandable, but it’s undoubtedly creative … and features no shortage of audience participation. Importantly, it’s also family-friendly.

Holly is known as Dr AudiYO! (because it says so on the back of her jump suit). Around her waist is a small yellow travel-bag. But first up she makes loud, menacing sounds. Taking large steps, she’s hungry. Is she a giant or a monster?

The next scene is indoors, seemingly in an unfamiliar home. Now a hungry cat  appears, wanting to be fed. During the piece, the cat becomes an infernal, constantly meowing feline. A balloon needs to be inflated, better by using a pump than by mouth. When a window is opened, the outside world intervenes.

At times youngsters and adults are hauled on stage to play along … and inevitably they do. One is even admonished for her less-than-charitable treatment of that damn cat. Humour and fun are evident throughout.

Mind you, after half an hour of this, Alphabet Soup – directed by Miles O’Neil – started to feel repetitious. The narrative arc isn’t always clear, even if I admired the intent. When I later read the program notes, I learned that Dr AudiYO! is a beatboxing superhero/clown who sets off on a surreal adventure to slay The Beast. Apparently, The Beast is on a rampage to silence the city and Dr AudiYO! must use her magic bag and enlist the help of the audience to save their town.

Photo: Pippa Samaya

Perhaps those couple of lines may help others to appreciate the show. Some of it didn’t quite add up to me. Regardless though, Alphabet Soup shows traditional language isn’t always necessary to have a good time at the theatre. It’s playing at Theatre Works until 20 April 2019.

Alex First

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