Michelle Dee, brochure in hand, sets off for Kardomah 94 to see the first show of the
Autumn Heads Up Festival.
You don’t see many plays about talking cats, Michelle thinks to herself. “You don’t see many talking cats,” a voice at her elbow says.
Pale Blue Dot, written by Dave Windass and presented here as a first-time showing, is about a young girl in a boat with a talking cat – a caracal no less – at the end of the world. It uses as its starting point Carl Sagan’s famous Pale Blue Dot speech delivered by the world-leading astronomer, after the probe Voyager I had pointed its camera back the way it had come to take a picture, before leaving our corner of the universe for good. It sent back a remarkable image of our home planet, seen as a seemingly insignificant speck of dust set
against the vastness of the galaxy.
A one-woman show directed by Andrew Pearson and performed by Sarah Brignall, the packed festival crowd first meet her throwing pots on a wheel. Moulding and shaping the wet clay to form drinking vessels, she is filled with the belief that she will one day, sit down to drink with people once more.
The stage is set with the potters wheel at the front, Sarah is seated stage right, a white triangular boat sail forms a back drop and suspended above, a spread of lights inside glass domes, that could be starlight, sunlight or fireflies.
Pale Blue Dot tells the story of Aiko, a mercurial girl of indistinct age, time seems less important when your days are spent sailing through submerged landscapes.
Aiko searches endlessly for survivors of the great catastrophe, an event of total destruction brought upon by humanities recklessness: such fools to ignore the warning signs, squandering resources, burning fossil fuels, global warming, climate change, rising sea levels…
Upon the introduction of the talking cat, a caracal called Toru, things begin to get really interesting for Aiko, but is he – and he is most definitely a he – a cat of conscience or substance? Aiko is surviving by scavenging, she’s learning as she goes, she’s bound to have had days with no fresh water, she could be hallucinating I suppose?
This isn’t a typical disaster movie story, a fight for survival in an unforgiving landscape, it is about exploring much bigger questions, far weightier issues such as: should humanity survive, does it deserve to continue? Will our destructive presence – a mere blip on a planetary timescale – even matter?
Aiko ponders these big questions as she sails the endless water and Toru, as arch and as cryptic and as unhelpful as you’d expect a caracal at the end of the world to be, provides few answers. There is a bond between the two unusual companions, Aiko finds him curled up next to her at nights, she reaches out to stroke his fur and drifts away to other worlds, to dream of princes.
Working with professional illustrator Gareth Sleightholme, Aiko’s world is depicted through a series of black ink sketches using a graphic novel approach, then projected on a back screen. Aiko is seen dressed in furs, a braid in her hair, she has the look of being Inuit. Toru is drawn from different angles, highlighting his strength and power, with hard dog like muzzle, the archetypal tufted pointy ears: lithe and sleek as you like.
The story is broken into short chapters using title screens and there are added sound effects and musical score, written by the Broken Orchestra. The writer borrows from Carl Sagan’s speech, also from Hemmingway, Martel and C.S Lewis among others. It moves at a relatively gentle pace, allowing time for the audience to immerse themselves inside the world: time enough to ruminate upon all the ideas presented.
Script in hand can mean an audience are denied some of the performance elements, Sarah reading from the script, stays in one place almost throughout. She uses her voice to bring to life all the characters, but it is Toru who captures the imagination most. Whether you see him as flesh and blood, a construct of Aiko’s mind, or a higher being altogether, he rather steals the show somewhat.
“That was kind of you, I suppose I did rather…”
Pale Blue Dot will be performed in 2018 as part of the national artist movement Season For Change.