BATS Theatre, Wellington

03/11/2012 - 17/11/2012

Production Details

An adventure into the enchanting truth hidden within every particle of existence.  

Bang. (Big) noun
Energies. (dark) Holes. (black) Mysteries. (perplexing) Cats. (unstable)  

Imagination is more important than knowledge – Albert Einstein 

On November 3 Into the Uncanny Valley opens at BATS Theatre. 

Using a mixture of theatre, dance, music, and visual and physical effects, our audience will be taken on a surprising and inspiring theatrical adventure.

We follow Sophie, as she takes an Uncanny journey from the ‘clockwork universe’ of the 19th century, through the profound but counter-intuitive truths uncovered by physics in the 20th century – meeting many weird and wonderful characters along the way – up to what may finally be the discovery of the ‘God Particle’ within humanity’s greatest ever machine: the Large Hadron Collider…

The inspiration for Into the Uncanny Valley began backstage of the 1993 Circa production of Jean Betts’ Ophelia Thinks Harder where former particle physicist turned part-time actor Nick Wyatt wowed young child performer Charlie Bleakley with the stunning and wondrous ideas of 20th century physics.

The conversation leisurely continued as Charlie’s interests in both physics and theatre developed (6th form prizes – physics & drama) as did Nick’s belief that the astonishing concepts within modern science could be beautifully explored for a broader audience.

They presented their ideas to several vastly experienced scientists, artists and professionals who were swiftly inspired to take on their project, collaborating to turn their fantastical ideas into reality – Lumina productions was born.

A key member of this team is Charlie’s father Joe Bleakley, the only man capable of bringing such absurd and unfathomable ideas to the stage. He was a member of ground-breaking troupe Red Mole that used to have queues along Vivian St hoping to get into its cabaret shows at Carmen’s Balcony nightclub with their edgy mix of puppets, skits and rock music. Joe created the opening ceremony for the 1990 Commonwealth Games for which he earned a QSM. He went on to art direct a string of Kiwi films including King Kong and Lord of the Rings. Rings earned Joe the US Art Directors Guild’s highest award – Excellence in Production Design.

Along with Joe’s large and varied team bringing the stage alight, Australian composer, instrumentalist and performer Adam Page is creating the musical soundscape and Choreographer and Footnote Dance stalwart Deirdre Tarrant will be bringing the dance element to life.

Charlie will direct this ensemble team from a script developed with Jean Betts and Nick Wyatt in collaboration with the Lumina productions team.

Into the Uncanny Valley
Season: November 3 – 17
BATS Theatre
Tues-Sat, 8pm

Public Preview, Thursday 1st November – all tickets $12
STAB Season Pass (Into the Uncanny Valley and Flatland) – $35
Email for either of these special deals.

Jennifer Martin, Paul Waggott, Anya Tate-Manning, Richard Falkner, Bryony Skillington 
Alice Macann, Emily Adams, Paul Young
MUSICIAN:  Adam Page

WRITER:  Jean Betts
DIRECTOR:  Charlie Bleakley
SCIENCE ADVISORS:  Nick Wyatt & Matt Visser
DESIGNER:  Joe Bleakley
CHOREOGRAPHER:  Deirdre Tarrant
MUSIC:  Adam Page
SOUND DESIGN:  Paddy Bleakley & Buster Flaws
WARDROBE:  Sheila Horton

PRODUCER:  Howard Taylor
ON-LINE PUBLICIST:  Jennifer O’Sullivan
GRAPHIC DESIGNER:  Matthew Gleeson
PROJECTIONS:  Dan Untitled, Piet Asplet, Tim Jordan
PROPS:  Vicky Robertson
FX ENGINEER:  Patrick Herd
MODEL-MAKERS:  Gary & Tanya Buckley, Brent Davenport
ASST. WARDROBE:  Erin Horton-Wilkie
SEAMSTRESS:  Jane Ferguson
PACK-IN:  Blair Ryan & Thomas Press  

Theatrically exquisite, but pointless and meaningless

Review by Ewen Coleman [Reproduced with permission of Fairfax Media] 08th Nov 2012

If ever there was a play that covers the whole gamut of theatrical experiences then Into the Uncanny Valley, the second of the STAB productions at BATS, is certainly it, although not all that successfully.

Starting with a blinding light in the first few moments of the play’s opening with a haunting sound track, the technical wizardry just keeps coming to the very end, unfortunately much to the detriment of the narrative.

Quantum physics is the theme, as seen through the eyes of Sophie (Jennifer Martin) a Victorian child.  Her tutor (Paul Waggott) and parents (Richard Faulkner and Anya Tate-Manning) and parent’s friend (Bryony Skillington) all try to explain to her how light works and the physics behind particle matter but to no avail.  So with her pet mice and black cat (Paul Waggott) she travels through time to the 21st century to try and find the answers. 

A sort of Alice in Wonderland meets Lord of the Rings meets Einstein.  Not surprising really, given that the lead designer for this production is one of Peter Jackson’s art directors Joe Bleakley.  His son Charlie Bleakley is the director and with Jean Betts, the writer, and Australian composer Adam Page, this formidable team along with the strong cast, including dancers, have brought to the stage one of the technological highlights of the year.

However, what the play is actually about and what it is trying to achieve gets somewhat lost in all this technology so that while it is great to watch, in the end it all becomes rather pointless and meaningless.

But even if many of the moments seemed disconnected from the whole, making the overall production disjointed, leaping from one scene to another, often with long black outs, there were numerous scenes that are theatrically exquisite.

These included tiny lights moving over the heads of the audience, like little Tinkerbells, the screen projections of Sophie looking through the widows of her dolls house as the mice ran through it, the large images of the talking cat, and the many screen images of quantum physics, including a large 3D type image of earth as seen from outer space.

All this and more added much to the surrealistic nature of the production which is worth going to see even if overall the play makes no sense.


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Science joins theatre

Review by Lynn Freeman 07th Nov 2012

The opening few minutes of this fusion of physics and theatre take your breath away – it’s a lighting and sound sensation that promises something remarkable. The STAB shows are all about exploring new technology (tick), boundary pushing (tick), experimentation (tick), and producing an unforgettable night at the theatre (tick). Taking on physics and the universe for 90 minutes in a small black box is madness, but Charlie Bleakley and his remarkable team of actors and crew produce one hell of a big bang on stage.

Jennifer Lal has been a leading light in lighting for years and in Uncanny Valley all that experimentation and experience fuse together. It’s a work of great beauty – light, the play says, is what holds the universe together and Lal’s lighting is a defining feature of a beautiful production. Paddy Bleakley, Buster Flaws and Laura Dunkley’s complex soundscapes, and Adam Page’s music, and Dan Untitled and Tim Jordan’s projection design, are also fundamental to the production’s brilliance. [More


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Highly original and technically strong

Review by Helen Sims 05th Nov 2012

The second STAB production at Bats of 2012, Into the Uncanny Valley, promises to take its audience on a “theatrical adventure … into the enchanting truth hidden within every particle of existence”. After a visually blinding but delightful opening, during which the audience is showered with small ‘particles’ (tiny bubbles), we follow a Victorian child called Sophie as she applies her imaginative powers to try and understand quantum physics.

Sophie (played by Jennifer Martin) travels through time and space, accompanied by her mischievous unnamed cat (played mainly by Paul Waggott). Made curious as to how light ‘works’ by the readings of her tutor (Paul Waggott) and a pair of lively mice, Sophie shrugs off the constraints of classical physics as espoused by her Victorian father (Richard Faulkner) and his friend (Bryony Skillington). Her mother (Anya Tate-Manning) hovers disinterestedly on the side-lines, more interested in getting a perfect family photo than in whether light travels in waves or particles.

The intent of the production is clear: the aim is to try and dramatise quantum physics for the stage.  Is the experiment successful?  Yes and no.

The production’s strength is the absolutely jaw dropping visual and sound design, including set, lighting, A-V projections, sound and music.  At regular intervals it prompts a sense of “how on earth did they do that?” wonder and serves to create an atmosphere of uncanny other-worldliness.  Description wouldn’t do justice to the various spectacles that are created; the production is worth seeing for the boundary pushing design alone.

Full credit must go to director Charlie Bleakley, designer Joe Bleakley, producer Howard Taylor and the talented team they have assembled.  

Where the production is less successful is in exploring quantum physics through a theatrical narrative.  Being someone who has almost no knowledge about either classical or quantum physics, I needed a clear narrative to follow.  Arranging the narrative around a child is a good choice, as it allows a questioning and imaginative innocence to be the predominant tone.  However, characters are not developed, scenes are really illustrations of scientific debates, and there is very little story or plot progression. 

Surrealism is the predominant style of the production, with its trademark refusal to offer explanations.  Hence we lurch from a rule-bound family in Victorian England, to gravity-defying German philosophers, to anxious American scientists, with dream-like sequences featuring dancers in between. The dialogue in the multi-character scenes is farcical and does very little to develop themes in a clear way.  

There are some lovely moments (particularly when Sophie’s mice ‘speak’ to her from the billiard room of her doll house), but overall I find the narrative confusing.

Although I enjoy the novelty of the experience in general, the ‘gaps’ and lack of clarity in the narrative are what make this, for me, an unsatisfying theatrical experience. Despite the technical wizardry of the show, I’m not drawn in enough to establish a connection which keeps me interested throughout. If the show is to be further developed it could benefit from a more coherent script.

Uncanny Valley is a highly original and technically strong production. Unfortunately technical excellence can’t quite make up for a lack of drama and a coherent narrative. 


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