By Lucinda Naughton
Robot Song is a thoroughly enjoyable, moving, and funny story about something we can all relate to – feeling isolated or different. The sixty-minute musical is based on writer and director Jolyon James’ experience of parenting a child on the Autism Spectrum and my word, this truth is certainly apparent as the piece is incredibly genuine and emotive.
Robot Song follows Juniper May, played by Ashlea Pyke, dealing with a letter from her class that says she is “the most hated person in school” with the help of her parents. They write a musical together, skilfully and amusingly breaking the fourth wall by directly referencing Robot Song, asking the audience to stand up and stretch (as Juniper explains she has to do every ten minutes in class), and at the end of the musical asking the audience to stand again to ‘breathe’ with her (a powerful theme within the piece, showing how she copes when things become too much). The audience participation is natural; each interaction is quick before Juniper moves on, having the effect of letting us be a part of her world without intruding.
While Robot Song is highly relevant for kids and parents of children on the Autism Spectrum, this is theatre we all need to see – it’s eye-opening, engaging, and real. It is full of hope and powerful messages about accepting and embracing differences in today’s homogenise society.
Ashlea Pyke’s performance is stand-out. She brings such quirkiness and detail to the physicality of her role and delivers astounding vocals, as well as employing endearing comedic timing. She lets the audience join Juniper’s creative and beautiful world.
Phillip McInnes delivers an energetic, empathetic, and dad-joke-down-pat performance of Juniper’s father. The two together are a powerhouse duo – it is refreshing to watch all inhibitions forgotten as they dance, make up poo-related songs, and talk through how to make a musical in a hilariously pragmatic way. Their fun onstage is infectious.
Composer and musical director Nathan Gilkes created an impressive original music score, with a piano theme song that is crazy moving. The music, along with Paul Lim’s lighting design and the use of voiceovers are effective tools in highlighting Juniper’s stress levels and mood changes.
The set design successfully creates Juniper’s world. Her parents begin on either side of the stage, physically showing the two pillars in Juniper’s life; her mother on the piano and her father at his desk with a computer that projects onto a whiteboard for him and Juniper to use for writing the musical. The show employs innovative digital technology and impressive animatronics. A large decorated bin is introduced during the show, representing Juniper’s own space, where she climbs up and into to discover wonderful items to play with.
Robot Song is something truly special to be a part of; the music, the characters, the energy are impressive and moved me greatly. I highly recommend watching.
All opinions and thoughts expressed within reviews on Theatre Travels are those of the writer and not of the company at large.