Starchitects Save Santa!

Jessica Harris visits the Midlands Arts Centre for a Christmas treat.

It’s Christmas Eve and Santa has gone missing. In its mission to save him, Motionhouse bounced and tumbled into Christmas in this energetic and exuberant show for young children.

Using a minimal set, with much heavy lifting done by wonderful digital projections, the strength of Starchitects Save Santa! lay in Motionhouse’s superb skills in acrobatics, aerial gymnastics and circus. At the core of the show were highly creative scenes created through the gymnastic feats and physical theatre of its six performers.

Santa’s sleigh was acted out through use of cardboard boxes: two performers supported by the others, one of them a reindeer and the other, of course, Santa, rode the sleigh high above the stage. The search for Santa involved a flight to the moon in a space rocket, also put together from cardboard boxes. The experience of being an astronaut was brilliantly conveyed by the performers’ bodies projecting horizontally from the backdrop, holding the ‘controls’ and juddering in the way that we’ve seen astronauts judder on our screens. In another memorable scene, a display of aerial work was given by performers suspended upside down. The strength and control involved was spellbinding.

The use of physical prowess to create these scenes spoke to the imaginations of the audience, and the show was fully engaging as a result. The timing of the acrobatics, reliant on strong teamwork, was near perfect and, at times, breathtaking.

Digital projections onto the backdrop were equally imaginative. At several points, performers emerged through it at speed. A two-dimensional slide turned into three dimensions as one of the team slid down it to enter the stage. At another point, an image of a space rocket was carried against the backdrop, creating the spectacle of it travelling through space.

The story itself was somewhat limited and, whilst the audience was invited to join the performers in helping them save Santa, the opportunities for children to participate were few. The minimal dialogue used in the show was fine since physical theatre carried it along. However, when the performers did speak, they had to shout over a loud and somewhat repetitive soundtrack. Sometimes their shouts and yells were a bit harsh on the ears.

Nonetheless, this is a wonderful build-up to Christmas for small children. And for the true believers, it was reassuring to see that Santa was finally found on the moon and brought back to Earth just in time for Christmas.

Starchitects Save Santa! was conceived and directed by Kevin Finnan. It is on MAC until 30th December. For further information see macbirmingham.