Sometimes, the telling of a tale is more important than its content. That’s certainly the case with A Heart at Sea, which uses song, puppetry and what can only be described as an ornate chest filled with marvels to tell the story of a young man who throws his heart into the sea. Reminiscent of a music video by Bombay Bicycle Club or The Middle East, the show propels its twin assets of set innovation and musical excellence to its forefront to deliver an utterly charming hour of theatre.
Peter Morton has pulled out all the stops in creating the backdrop for this show, with his chest full of more treasures than Davy Jones’ locker. With a few flicks and twists, the cabinet can be transformed from a seaside townscape to the deck of a ship; from an icy tundra to an underwater cavern. Gasps from the audience are audible at each new revelation, while the puppets themselves are often more suggestive than illustrative (and that’s not a criticism). The whales in particular are eye-catching in their aesthetic and movement.
Meanwhile, Avi Simmons’ musical accompaniment is equally inventive. Breathing new life back into the oft-overused loop pedal, Simmons conjures the thrum of raindrops and the crashing of a storm through the most delightful audience participation. At the same time, her singing voice is simply sublime, making it an excellent conduit through which we hear the story… wherein lies the biggest sticking point of the show.
While an enchanting delivery is certainly integral to a successful show, it must also have some meat on its bones. A Heart at Sea is billed as being suitable for all ages – and it definitely is. Temperamental teenagers and pernickety pensioners alike will find much to love about the ingenuity on display, but the one-dimensional simplicity of its storyline makes it ideally suited to ankle-biters. The biggest point of interest in the whole plot is glossed over in the first few minutes (zone out and you’ll miss it), while the majority of the hour is given over to an entirely predictable quest with minimal obstacles and a saccharine message at its heart. Furthermore, the melodramatic flourishes and exaggerated eye contact which accompany the performance are more suited to a younger market; adults will certainly enjoy it, but kids surely comprise its main fanbase.
A little more sophistication to the performance and a little more intrigue to the plot, and A Heart at Sea would undoubtedly be one of the stand-out shows of the Fringe. As it stands, it relies on sparkle and shimmer instead of substance, making it nevertheless an excellent hour of entertainment, especially for the young.