The Impossibly Possible, Unbelievably Believable, Journey and Return of Josephine Clark

Playhouse Theatre, Dunedin

15/03/2017 - 17/03/2017

Dunedin Fringe 2017

Production Details

Along Josephine’s journey we meet a busload of tourists out on a shopping spree and the empty city they wander into, bicyclists who are racing towards a finish line that has yet to be determined and finally into the darkness of the cave of the Brisky Bat.

This family-friendly multimedia production features shadow puppetry mixed with traditional hand and rod puppets, with colourful costumes and plenty of energy from live actors and dancers gracing the stage. Sound effects are performed live with wind machines, rain sticks and other forms of old radio show foley.

Theatre , Puppetry ,

90 minutes

Technical ingenuity tends to bog down the narrative

Review by Terry MacTavish 17th Mar 2017

The Barking Fish Theater Project is certainly something of an oddity in this day and age, though it bears some similarity to the travelling Commedia dell’arte troupes, or maybe the Crummles, Dickens’ theatrical family in Nicholas Nickleby.

For this is a family affair indeed, with (presumably) sisters Lisa Orloff Clark and Sarah Orloff Hamilton the driving force, producing, directing, and acting, as well as adding music and props and costumes. Jamie Hamilton, who also acts, has written the play, while Tom Clark does lights and sound. There are a couple more young Clarks in the cast, and the young actor playing Josephine Clark is, well, Josephine Clark.

I imagine it has been an enriching and bonding experience, creating this show, which apparently hails from Buffalo in America, but that does not necessarily translate into successful theatre, and the extract shown in Festival Showcase has not served to attract more than a very small audience. The cast work hard, but at 6pm on a weekday with only two children in the theatre to play to, it is struggling.

Of course children’s theatre can delight adult audiences: in this very playhouse we have experienced the absolute enchantment of theatre company Trick of the Light, with The Road That Wasn’t There, The Bookbinder, and Beards!Beards!Beards!

The latter especially showed us that adult actors tend to be better able to convey the essence of children than the genuine article, and it is a big ask for young Josephine Clark to carry so much of this show. She looks very nice and speaks clearly, but the mantra she repeats every time she meets someone new is neither vividly worded nor delivered interestingly enough to bear the repetition.

The title promises joyful wordplay, the logic of nonsense, and of course the tradition of the journey, in which the heroes are helped by the creatures they befriend, and at the end of the quest find the journey has been one of self-discovery. The message is all about courage and honesty and being true to one’s friends; often the moral is to appreciate what one has had all along.

The Impossibly Possible Unbelievably Believable Journey and Return of Josephine Clark adheres to the party line up to a point. Two Narrators explain that the ludicrously happy town of Silere has gone dark, literally, so Josephine sets out on her bicycle to discover why. Her first encounter is with larger-than-life Oliver Todd (an exuberant Jamie Clark), who runs a circus of curious animals. From then on, all the creatures Josephine encounters can be conveniently dispatched to join the circus. But will she be able to overcome the final and most fearsome creature?

The producers have taken the trouble to create and use a variety of technical conventions, including drawings of the scenes projected behind the actors, shadow play, elaborate rod puppets of bees and a large grasshopper, and human actors as giant snails. Perhaps because there are a lot of these to get through the narrative tends to get bogged down, and though I can see a lot of ingenuity has gone into the snails, and it must have seemed like a whimsical idea to have snails taught to tap dance, this particular scene feels awkward, and the character of Inner Wisdom somewhat extraneous.

It must be dispiriting playing to so few, and some of the cast do appear to be simply going through the motions (though Quinn Hardie as Italian Luigi makes a fine effort to inject energy into his scenes). I really hope a full house with plenty of children will give The Impossibly Possible Journey the kick-start it needs to pick up speed and truly transport us to a different world. 


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