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Robot Penguin | Wanstead Fringe

Robot Penguin is a hilariously written and performed piece where “Emperor Spy Cam A10N3” aka the Robot Penguin, is sent to observe a penguin colony, yet it’s ultimately what he learns about himself that we are really invested in. Creator and Performer Andrew Atha instantly wins the audience over with his penguin costume, red laser and foam camera. Adding to this, is the witty penguin puns (such as attempting to “break the ice” with the other penguins), popular references, playful mocking of BBC documentaries, David Attenborough and natural charm.

He’s not afraid to poke fun at himself by using a dance number to introduce himself, constant self-deprecating jokes and funny moments of karaoke. It’s a winning introduction and we’re instantly swept away by the talent and humour of the show. This is followed by a brilliantly worded history of the protagonist prior to this mission. He’d been part of a string of Christmas lights, a vibrating egg, a tamagotchi device and had an unpaid internship as a data chip in an iPod. It’s the smaller jokes, that are slipped in so effortlessly that really make you laugh, and Atha is a master at this craft.

The script is so clever, blending thoughtful observations about the penguins, insightful commentaries about life, funny little anecdotes and a lot of song and dance. Atha navigates between having the audience in stitches and having us hold a collective breath as we’re given a front row seat to the brutality that is nature. In a particularly harrowing scene, we witness a younger penguin begin to drown, and in a moment of cold and blunt truth, our robot penguin (RP) admits that he’s unable to feel emotion, and also unable to help as it would interfere with nature. It’s an unsettling moment, made even more real with the excellent use of projection, dialogue and torchlights to create a rather tense moment. It was a bold decision to have this scene so early on in the show, as it does leave the audience a little unsure whether we can really root for RP, yet it immediately establishes the moral dilemma of the show and I believe the show is so much better off for it.

The show also has an incredibly ability to also be sensitive and address the audience when tackling deeper themes, such as neurodivergence, love, self-identity, morality, death, rejection and consequence, without compromising the humour or heart of the show. The show does occasionally have more serious moments where it really explores the choices that we make, who we are and being alive, yet it never comes across as preachy or cliche.

The use of technology as an extended metaphor for life is another move that works really well in the show. With RP’s battery dipping at a point, we’re able to connect to him as he talks about needing to recharge by being alone, and how draining interactions can be. Other examples include how being on “airplane mode” allows us to function without interference from the world, and how factory reset is a safer option to not be hurt. I never thought that I would be able to connect on a personal level with a robot, but Atha has ensured that we can.

The show uses light and sound really well. With the use of a looping device, Atha records himself blowing and tapping into the device, creating a surprisingly great wind sound effect to set the show in the Antarctic. He also uses a mix of popular songs (both used in the background and performed), royalty free club and classical music, which adds another layer of absurdity to the show, but in a subtle way. The music becomes integral to the show in certain scenes.

The lights are also well thought out (Beckett Gray), with the red laser being used to remind us to that he is still a robot, torches that stand in for other characters, and a particularly innovative use of a hand held Aurora Borealis light lamp to create a stunning atmosphere.

The show written by recent graduate Andrew Atha, uses a lot of terminology and references that are currently quite popular. With the mention of beige flags, correct use of pronouns, “peng”uin jokes, the show makes sure to be on top of it’s game. I would like to shoutout the mention of “Club Penguin” and a hilarious “Crappy Feet”, and to see a robot attempt robot dancing.

The show is hilarious, yet so moving and will have you reflecting on both yourself and the world. The show rightfully received a standing ovation, and I’m excited to see where both the show and creator Andrew Atha goes next.

I would also like to point out that this show won the Baloney Awards 2023 (wherein the Baloney Theatre Company chose the show to be produced for a short run at the Wanstead Fringe, free of charge), and is part of a double bill by the same company.

For more information about Baloney Theatre Company's productions, you can follow the link here.

{AD | Gifted} Written by Oviya Thirumalai

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