The Adventures of Alvin Sputnik: Deep Sea Explorer

16th Avenue Theatre, 174 16th Ave, Tauranga

29/10/2011 - 30/10/2011

Basement Theatre, Lower Greys Ave, Auckland

25/02/2011 - 01/03/2011

Suter Theatre, Nelson

24/10/2012 - 25/10/2012

Hawea Flat Hall, Hawea

29/03/2023 - 30/03/2023

Tauranga Arts Festival 2011

Auckland Fringe 2011

Nelson Arts Festival 2012


Production Details

Created and performed by Tim Watts

Weeping Spoon Productions

Little bit of Love 

After a sold out season in New York in 2009, this international multi-award winning Australian solo show is finally coming to NZ as part of the Auckland Fringe! From the most isolated city on Earth (Perth, Western Australia) comes a visually inspired solo show that melds technology and multimedia into a touching story of enduring love and the end of the world.

The seas have risen, billions have died, and those who remain live on farms on top of skyscrapers, on top of mountains. Now science and humanity are turning to the oceans themselves. It is up to Alvin Sputnik to venture through the mysterious depths to find a place for the human race to live in peace once more.

The Adventures of Alvin Sputnik: Deep Sea Explorer is created and performed by Tim Watts (Weeping Spoon Productions), an international award winning writer / deviser, director, performer, puppeteer and animator, who has performed and created shows all over the world. He comes to Auckland direct from Sydney Festival and after a sold out season at the New York International Fringe Festival in 2009 where he received an award for “Outstanding Solo Show” and rave reviews…

“…an endearing Australian solo show…akin to a theatrical Wall-E.” New York Times

“I highly doubt any $40 million Broadway spectacles could pack such an emotional wallop into two-and-a-half hours as Mr. Watts does into 45 minutes.”

Friday Feb 25 – Tuesday 1 March 2011, 7pm

The Basement, Lower Greys Ave

Tickets through
(09) 3611000
Adults $25 | Children and student $18
Family price – $60 for Monday and Tuesday only.Tauranga Arts Festival 2011

Promo video

Nelson Arts Festival 2012

Suter Theatre
24 – 25 October, 6pm & 8pm 

Wanaka Festival of Colour 2023

Hāwea Flat Hall
Wednesday 29th March, Thursday 30th March
6pm (Wednesday), 11 & 6pm (Thursday)
$44 (students $25)

Recommended age 10 years+

Theatre , Puppetry , Solo , Children’s ,

45 mins

Sweet, uplifting story and endearing simplicity of its message heart-warming for all ages

Review by Jennifer Smart 30th Mar 2023

Stories with the capacity to engage three generations of family members are few and far between – anyone who’s ever sweated over choices for family film night can attest to that. Even with the tsunami of content provided by modern platforms, it’s near impossible to please everyone these days.

The Adventures of Alvin Sputnik is that rare, generation-bridging crowd-pleaser. The straightforward nature of the narrative coupled with the masterful use of analog and digital storytelling devices is perhaps why it not only engages, but delights the all-ages audience of Hāwea Flat Hall.

As a venue the community hall was a knowing choice by the Festival organisers. Set among crop fields and craggy Central Otago hills, the hall has a relaxed simplicity and school-camp excitement about it that fits the performance to come. It kind of feels like concert night on the last day of camp: the suppertime biscuits are out and that one scene-stealing kid is about to perform the bit they’ve been working on.

We are focussed on a large white circle in the centre of the stage which will at various points be used by the solo performer, Tom Watts, as a screen, a frame for the action taking place behind it and a set for puppetry sequences. While the circle carries us through space and time to tell Alvin’s story, it also acts as a motif to underscore the importance of human connection.

The post-disaster setting of Alvin’s story appears cautionary at first — particularly given the extreme weather events of late. Seas have risen, billions have died and those who are left live on farms atop skyscrapers and mountains. However, the climate catastrophe is rarely foregrounded but rather sits behind the characters, accepted as an inevitability.

Although humanity’s role in the decimation of the planet’s natural systems is alluded to at times, the narrative belongs to Alvin and is centred around his brave quest.

In a last-ditch effort to save the human race, our bobble-headed hero journeys down through the mysterious depths of the deep blue sea to find a new place for us to live. It is the recent loss of his wife that drives Alvin to accept the perilous mission, and a desire to follow her soul down to the underworld to be together once more.

As a character, Alvin is endearing and amusing, brought to life by the deceptively simple puppetry of Tom Watts. We become so absorbed in Alvin’s excellent dance moves (undersea disco! Synchronised swimming with sea creatures!) that it’s easy to forget that his head is simply a polystyrene buoy, his body a white glove encasing dexterous fingers. 

But the fact that we are witnessing a performance is never disguised, which is all part of the charm. We see the manipulation of the puppet, hear the switching on and off of Alvin’s headlight and track the performer’s transition from main character to supporting character, from voice actor to projectionist. Yet somehow our disbelief remains suspended, probably because we are participants in the performance too. 

The DIY aesthetic of the production belies a sharp understanding of narrative tools which are layered in a compelling way to move the audience through the story. Notably, a rich, high-quality soundscape draws us into Alvin’s undersea world, complementing the hand-drawn animations and analog elements. Musical tracks are expertly selected to break tension and provide light relief as Alvin pursues the weighty goal of his adventure. 

Seeking to understand how the multimedia parts of the story fit together is partly what unites the audience in our delight. This is evident as kids, parents and grandparents rush to talk with creator and performer Tom Watts at the end of the show. They want to know how the lighting effects are created, what the Alvin-puppet feels like and who built the tiny undersea skyscrapers.

But it’s also the sweet, uplifting nature of the story and the endearing simplicity of its message that connects the audience and makes for a timeless performance. First produced in 2009, the show has had some minor tweaks along the way – including some technical updates to its animations which were originally made in Flash (!) – but is as participatory and heart-warming as ever.


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Captivates with delicacy, finesse, humour and magic

Review by Gail Tresidder 25th Oct 2012

No surprise then that this story of a little person, Alvin Sputnik, enchants audiences all over the world.  It is exceptional and what theatre is all about. 

Performed by Tim Watts with delicacy and finesse, Alvin – his puppet body a simple ball with an inner light, his legs and arms Watts’ nimble and expressive fingers – ventures out and down into the deepest depths of the sea to find his dead wife and at the same time save the world.  Global warming has turned into a global furnace and this earth of ours is almost totally submerged with only the very tallest buildings remaining as pinpoint island homes in an endless sea. 

A message is sent out from Earth Headquarters seeking a person of courage who will predictably lose his own life but save mankind by finding and releasing a huge bubble of air inside a volcano at the bottom of the ocean. Alvin, grieving his wife and wondering what to do with the rest of his life, decides to volunteer.  Various efforts have been made prior to Alvin’s last ditch attempt.  One of them, “drinking the ocean dry” is predictably, an EPIC FAIL!  

The masterful combination of live music and sound, drawings appearing and disappearing on the screen, the interplay between ‘live’ puppet and drawn puppet without missing a beat, all with split second timing, is amazing.  A combination of silhouettes, little drawings and sweet songs – notably the touching ‘Please don’t leave me tonight’ and the deliberately out of key ‘Down and down, down he goes’ are delicious – are captivating. 

There is also humour: Alvin kicks the sand with his feet, muses “Aw shucks,” and does an ‘eat-your-heart-out John Travolta’ series of cool moves to a disco ball that miraculously appears.

Best encapsulated by the child in the audience who reaches up, higher and higher to touch the bubbles that float gently from the stage into the auditorium, we also have magic, lots and lots of magic.

The whole is quite wonderful.

As with any good folk story, there is a serious moral message. We see images of hermetically sealed buildings on the seabed, all their lights still blazing; drowned people floating amongst the living creatures of the ocean and the flotsam and jetsam of ‘a civilisation’ in amongst the waving weeds. 

All credit to Tim Watts for his creative genius and to Chris Isaacs, Arielle Gray and producer Nic Clark.  They have given birth to a special character in Alvin Sputnik; one I will never forget. 


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Funny, quirky and moving

Review by Vanessa Byrnes 30th Oct 2011

Alvin Sputnik is a fantastic show that deserves full houses. Myself – and my 8 year old daughters – were entranced by this 45-minute piece from start to finish. It’s a wee cracker of a show that’s ingeniously creative, wonderfully specific, and will appeal to both sides of the brain in a way that not many shows do. 

With one performer in a lycra diving suit, a projector, round screen, ukulele, some clever hand puppetry, some battery-lit props and a fantastic soundscape, this play is theatrical magic. The planet is dying due to water levels rising; our hero Alvin has his own tragedy to endure.

So with a duel mission to save the planet and relocate his own personal joy [spoiler alert; finding his dead wife’s soul – ends] Alvin takes on the deep sea underworld. There he is pushed to the limit, but in unexpected ways. Along the way he finds both what he’s looking for and what humanity needs.

But there is a cost. The narrative doesn’t shy away from big themes like death, danger and destruction, yet it gently massages these subjects into comedy and acceptance. Tim Watts expertly holds these matters in front of his audience and glides through them with creative depth. 

Watts exhibits great connection with both his characters and the audience, has fantastic animations and uses excellently well-placed storytelling. It’s funny and quirky, but very connected and real.

I found the work very moving. Do not miss this one, especially in its Auckland season at the Herald Theatre this week (Thursday, 3 November – Saturday, 5 November).


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Gleeful, poignant family-friendly show a ‘must see’

Review by Stephen Austin 26th Feb 2011

Global warming has taken its effect and oceans are rising perilously, threatening to leave no land habitable. Farms are built atop skyscrapers pushed from the sea by huge volcanoes. Somewhere deep below, a second hope for mankind lurks in one of these dormant mountains.

A simple man, Alvin Sputnik, follows his recently dead wife’s soul into the depths and decides he must become a deep sea explorer to get her back. He meets a pompous brigadier in his training, finds strange undersea creatures, has some pretty magical adventures and inadvertently saves the world.

Presented on, behind and around a simple portal screen / gauze in the centre of the performance space, this gleeful, poignant show by performer / director Tim Watts takes us into his imagined world and offers up more pathos in 45 minutes than many other shows could (or indeed would) in 2 and a half or three hours. 

Stylish, simple, hand-drawn animations create tricks of the eye in front of the screen and the depth behind the gauze provides a sense of texture akin to being under the ocean. Puppetry is used expertly to blend the two planes into a seamless, childlike world helping to realise the protagonist and adding extra wonder to the environment. Songs are used as bridges to enhance emotion in what is almost free of expositional dialogue. 

If there is a single criticism of this funny, moving adventure, it’s the script. It’s so simple it verges on twee. What rescues it is the clarity and style of Tim Watts’ performance. Right from the get go this piece resonates on a very universal level; I very nearly cried at the death of Alvin’s wife, and I was certainly not alone. 

Watts’ relaxed assured delivery of the piece quickly pulls us in and instead of a lacklustre well-worn performance, we get a play with almost perfect pace, tactile characters and environments emerging from animations and back again in a beguiling, seamless fashion.

This family-friendly work has a great sense of play and shows a vivid imagination; delightful visual storytelling for young and old. Absolutely the first ‘must-see’ of Auckland Fringe 2011.

This review kindly supported by The James Wallace Arts Trust

For more production details, click on the title above. Go to Home page to see other Reviews, recent Comments and Forum postings (under Chat Back), and News.  


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