Recently, I was invited by a friend to view up-and-coming writer Matthew de Haas’ original play AKIO! at the Hayes Theatre (the recently rebranded Darlinghurst Theatre) in Potts Point. I had known before entry that it was designed as a children’s theatre piece, and I was completely unexpected for how much I would enjoy and be touched by it as a young adult.
Akio (Kevin Clayette) is a shy boy who is bullied in school until a strange twist sees him, and his crush, Harumi (Demetria Alexandria), transported via a magic portal into the video game world of his GameBoy. There, Harumi is captured and imprisoned by the game’s villains (Chanelle Freeland and Aaron Sweeten). Akio then embarks on a journey to find the courage and strength to free his love and ends up learning some important lessons about true heroism and strength of heart.
Director Jade Alex and Choreographer Vanessa Morrison have brilliantly interwoven the elements of dance and acting into a form that makes the play’s messages of friendship, forgiveness and acceptance easily accessible to both children and the children at heart. The cast all do surprisingly well in their parts, relying on minimal dialogue and exaggerated movement to convey their emotions and motivations. Particular congratulations have to go to the hero of the piece Akio, played by Australian Academy of Dramatic Arts graduate Kevin Clayette. His natural animation and charismatic humour is engaging in this style of production and translates incredibly well to an audience of both children and adults. Further praise has to be given to Chanelle Freeland, who played the evil villainess, Jorogumo. An exceptionally skillful dancer and actor, her graceful, powerful performance and the ownership of her role saw her steal every scene she was in (which was lamentably too few).
The biggest star of the play, however, is the set. Designers Matthew de Haas and Mariya Tkachenko have drawn inspiration from Japanese theatre maker Tadashi Suzuki and Japanese animation culture in creating a beautiful setting within the intimate stage offered at the Hayes. Here, the audience is immediately, and willingly, transported into an old-school GameBoy animation. Combined with the impressive audio and visual effects and unique choreography, it creates a bright, lively and thoroughly entertaining space and is sure to take any twenty-year-olds (myself included) into a deep nostalgia for old Pokémon and Zelda games.
Overall, I enjoyed the play far more than I had ever expected to. Though some sub-plots were under-developed, and probably missed their mark among their younger demographic, the play makes up for it with its huge heart and beautiful messages. The truest charm of the play is in moments where de Haas has taken old game staples like the captured, frightened Princess, and made her into a strong heroine in her own right or when Akio must decide whether it is more important to defeat or forgive his enemies. If you have children, or are just young at heart looking for an uplifting play with an important message, I highly recommend you check out this production. AKIO! runs for the rest of the weekend, with matinee and early evening performances until the 12th. I guarantee you haven’t seen anything like it before and you’ll leave with a grin as big of the children.
Featuring: Kevin Clayette, Demitra Alexandria, Clancy Carraway, Chanelle Freeland, Jay Johns, Ashleigh Lindsay, Aaron Sweeten, Ellie Stewart and Khanh Trieu.
Creative Team: Jade Alex (director), Vanessa Morrison, Matthew De Haas, Mariya Tkachenko, Julia Gorman, Jessica Lowe, Vanessa Morrison, and James O’Brien.
Presented by Blue Theatre Company in association with Hayes Theatre Co, Akio! is on until 12 July, for tickets see: http://www.hayestheatre.com.au/what-s-on/now-playing/