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Review: Holly Austin’s ‘Alphabet Soup’ at Theatre Works

By Flora Norton

I think it’s fair to say that a lone 21-year-old girl is not the target audience for Holly Austin’s ‘Alphabet Soup’ and when I sat down amongst a roomful of four-year olds, I did briefly question my life choices. The memo I’d received was to expect a beatboxing clown which, I won’t lie, doesn’t regularly appear on my bucket list.

Yet this complex and flawlessly executed mime is truly mind-blowing and has every adult in the room just as mesmerised as their children.

Through evocative mime and some extraordinary sound effects, Austin tells the story of a big scary giant’s hungry pursuit of an innocent loveable clown. Despite a bare set and limited lighting effects, Austin’s acting alone brings the stage to life and together with the perfectly timed noises, this enables her to create moments of palpable tension, humour and anticipation.

The combination of her exaggerated performance style, her Mr Bean like facial expressions and her slapstick comedy immediately engages the kids and moments of fear, relief and delight are reflected in their audible laughter, gasps and cries.

Austin’s talent is also demonstrated through her involvement of the audience which plays a significant role in the show. As her character finds itself in more and more threatening situations, she gets kids up on-stage miming actions that ultimately rescue her and manages, purely through mime, to explain to four-year olds what is required of them. This in and of itself is wonderful to watch and your imagination is sent into overdrive as you watch the children experimenting with mime, incredulous when their actions are reinforced by sound effects that seem to come from nowhere.

The show is also intellectually stimulating for the older generation and little nuggets of adult humour are scattered throughout. It’s up to the audience to watch Austin’s actions carefully and piece the story together, meaning that the show is also immensely satisfying when you pick up on the little jokes and tricks.

She nimbly toys with our emotions and our morals throughout the performance and the ‘choose your own adventure’ aspect of the play adds an exciting new dynamic to the piece. At one stage Austin has the audience choose whether she should leave through a) the door, b) the window or c) the trapdoor. When our choice results in her subsequently being eaten by the giant we’re faced with our own role in the character’s demise. This is entertaining for the adults and confronting for the children but ultimately a clever way of maintaining our investment in the story.

While it wouldn’t be my first choice for my friends and I, I would highly recommend taking your children to this wonderfully complex and skilfully crafted performance. Austin has complete command of the stage and her audience and the fact that I was as invested as the toddlers sitting beside me shows that she’s doing something very right.

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All opinions and thoughts expressed within reviews on Theatre Travels are those of the writer and not of the company at large.


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