Falling under the spell of Nufonia

Mar 05, 2015

This enchanting show is a sweet tonic in an entertainment world that seems increasingly dominated by loud, audacious productions that over-stimulate and under-nourish.

That’s not to say there’s anything simple about the production; quite the opposite. Nufonia Must Fall is essentially a live silent movie incorporating theatre, music, puppets and multiple miniature sets.

Yet despite the multi-media elements, there is a quiet, gentle charm to the story of the slow-blossoming romance between two awkward characters and the way in which it is presented.

Nufonia Must Fall began life as a graphic novel by show creator, turntablist and music producer Kid Koala (aka Eric San), and it is he who welcomes the Dunstan Playhouse audience with a game of Nufonia Bingo. Rather than numbers, the cards feature pictures that act like a visual overture for the story to come; the game heightens anticipation, as does the fact that San is sitting amid two turntables and musical instruments.

Then the members of the Afiara String Quartet join him on stage, launching into the emotive score that is key to the changing moods and atmosphere of this production, which is, by turns, humorous, sad, suspenseful, optimistic and joyful.

The first of the miniature sets on stage comes to life with a stressed-out robot employee juggling phone calls from angry customers. He’s the hero of the tale – a hapless, introverted, headphone-wearing fellow who keeps losing jobs to a more efficient, six-armed model. He is also obsessed with learning a love song so he can win the heart of a lady named Malorie.

It is a credit to the puppeteers and show director KK Barrett (Her, Adaptation, Being John Malkovich) that these characters, though having no facial expression, manage to convey an incredible spectrum of emotions through posture and body movement. The audience is cheering for the couple from the moment they first shyly peek at each other in a lift.

Nufonia is a classic romance and, even without dialogue, we can imagine the thoughts and words in the characters’ heads. Most adults will relate to the awkwardness of the scene showing their first date, and the robot’s pain following the shocking denouement is heartbreaking.

The mostly monochrome film projection is so captivating it’s possible to momentarily forget that what you are seeing is being captured in real time, and there is a large cast of puppeteers and camera people actually making it happen live on stage with puppets and LED-lit miniature sets. Flicking your eyes from stage to screen – while also listening to the score and sound effects being performed live by Kid Koala and the quartet – could be a recipe for sensory overload. But it’s not; it’s entrancing.

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Many elements must fit together seamlessly for this complex production to work – and yet the end result seems so beautifully simple, almost in a nostalgic kind of way, that you can’t help falling under the spell of Nufonia.

Nufonia Must Fall, a co-commission by the Adelaide Festival, offers the chance to see something truly unique. It’s an enriching, moving and highly enjoyable experience.

Nufonia Must Fall is being presented at the Dunstan Playhouse, Adelaide Festival Centre, until March 7.

Click here for more 2015 Adelaide Festival stories and reviews.

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