A troupe of hopeful Fringe performers get lost in the woods, forced to deliver their starry-eyed show to the "nonexistent" audience. Blending with music, comedy, and physical theatre, this playful metatheatrical setup paves the way for a quirky exploration of storytelling that unfortunately falls victim to its own free spirit.
A tighter script and less tangential story-arc might have done the job better.
The Human Zoo have seen success at the Fringe before, winning the Enfants Terribles Award with their debut show The Hive in 2014. But this year's offering might not have struck gold. While the characters involved are too busy stargazing to get on with their journey, the company themselves seem to get too sidetracked by their own (admittedly promising) musings to follow any of them to completion. Whether looking at the fate of a girl searching for the stars, a man crippled by his love for trivia, or a moon who hates meteors, the troupe continually favour a light silliness over strong conclusions or punchlines, turning promising stories into half-hearted daydreams. Delivery often settles into vague affectation, and many of the lines come across like the first half of a joke that's never finished. Something good is at work here, though for some reason it refuses to come into focus.
The actors themselves are wonderfully expressive and immediately endearing, with a larger-than-life clarity that gives everything they do a thrilling energy. The unassuming sweetness of Jack (Freddie Crossley) or the explosive nonsense of Scarlet (Fleur Rooth) add incredible colour to the group's dynamic; it's just a shame that they all feel underused.
There are moments of real ingenuity, which recall the praise for their strong staging and versatility in their previous work. The few weak attempts at poetry are redeemed by the fierce momentum of a rap on Google; the staging peaks with some fantastic newspaper-choreography and tongue-in-cheek musical accompaniment; the use of the ensemble to voice each other's characters ends up being surprisingly moving. The troupe are not afraid to play, and play well, which is their greatest asset. But these flashes of brilliance disappear as quickly as they arrive, and the show never reaches the cosmological heights it aims for.
Things do improve as they go along, with a firmer purpose to the narrative emerging in the second half; but it still seems like too little, too late. Grappling with the desire to tell stories, the impulse towards self-destruction, and a playful awareness of the supernatural, the company are on the edge of saying something sweetly profound, and almost get there. But they don't quite make the jump. A tighter script and less tangential story-arc might have done the job better. As it is, this bundle of fun ideas never quite makes it into a coherent whole.