Refreshing And Amusing Show
Conveys Heart-Warming Story
By Liz Overton, YPT Press Gang,
The Egg, Theatre Royal Bath
Advertised as "a physical theatre show for children and childish adults", all I knew about Muttnik: The First Dog In Space was that it was loosely based on the story of Laika, the dog the Soviets sent into space in 1957. As an animal lover, I was somewhat apprehensive about attending -- knowing all too well that Laika sadly died in space before the rocket had returned to Earth. With this in mind, I was unsure if I wanted to see the devastated faces of an auditorium full of children as this tragedy was shown under bright theatre lights! But I was reassured by the phrase "imaginative slant" I found in the blurb in The Egg programme, and crossed my fingers under my reporter’s notebook that I would not be reduced to tears in front of the packed and buzzing theatre.
Thankfully my dignity was maintained, and I had the pleasant surprise of watching a refreshing and amusing show that used mime and acrobatics to convey a heart-warming story. Muttnik clearly thrilled the attending children from start to finish as they laughed, cheered and spurred Niki McCretton along in her exceptional performance. Comedy was included frequently -- a memorable moment being the audience interaction, which allowed Nick White (Theatre Royal Bath's Education Officer), to show off his considerable dancing skills! A talented gymnast and dancer herself, Niki used carefully-devised choreography and silent-movie-style music as she bounded around the stage as Muttnik, the rescued dog, before changing into the humorously stereotypical Russian Soviet in his trenchcoat and fur hat. She also managed to switch effectively between playing Muttnik herself and using a furry puppet to portray the loveable dog. Aside from alerting children to the events that took place in 1957 and hopefully inspiring an interest in space, Muttnik also employed simple techniques such as an optician’s chart spelling out “A DOG IN SPACE” to encourage the children to read out the letters it showed. Another touching moment featured Muttnik arranging the planets of the solar system in order, using different coloured dog bowls pinned on a washing line.
Finally, the blast-off came! I watched with bated breath as Muttnik spiralled in zero gravity, wondering how Niki would choose to end the stirring tale (pardon the pun!) she had spun out. But as the Soviets mourned the loss of the brave astro-dog, the audience saw a perfectly happy Muttnik landing safely on the Moon, ready to begin a new life there. Just the happy ending I had wished for!
(Reviewed from performances on 23 October 2006 at The Egg, Theatre Royal Bath in Bath, North East Somerset, U.K. This version specially edited and formatted for this archive.)
(ARCHIVE EDITOR'S NOTE --- The following reviews of Muttnik: The First Dog In Space are in connection with Niki McCretton's performances during the 2006 Edinburgh Fringe Festival in Edinburgh, Scotland, U.K.)
A BRILLIANT SHOW FROM NIKI McCRETTON (4 STARS) --- Muttnik: The First Dog In Space is definitely a more dash-than-cash production. It's her, a handful of versatile props, a basic set -- two moveable screens and a swivel chair, actually -- and a scruffy hound-dog of a puppet. But the genial, bouncy McCretton has the knack of telling stories without words. In the turn of a coat and a comprehensive change of body language, she's the Soviet soldier and then the scientist who sees Muttnik as the ideal candidate for a pioneering space flight. Without the coat, she's Muttnik incarnate -- a mooching stray who makes eager friends with the audience, and learns (like Pavlov's dogs) how to respond to the bells and buzzers that she'll hear in flight. There are seamless transitions between her and Muttnik, and the puppet pooch, and there's a gorgeous section of acrobatics that really captures the sense of zero gravity and freefall. But most of all, there's the kind of audience participation that draws us in and makes us care about Muttnik who seems a dead ringer for Laika, the first dog in space. It's just a beautifully thought-through, very funny and resourceful piece of physical theatre that works for children and adults alike.
(Mary Brennan -- The Herald -- 4/5 Stars -- 25 August 2006)
ENGAGING & VERSATILE (4 STARS) --- Niki McCretton’s version of the true story of Laika, the first Russian space dog (dubbed Muttnik by the Americans), represents kids' physical theatre at its most simple but effective. The tone alternates between melancholic and slapstick, lending the piece the air of a Charlie Chaplin silent film. As with all the best children’s shows, there are plenty of opportunities for interaction with the audience, including playing catch with a giant inflatable globe, identifying the planets in the solar system and reading about the hound’s eventual fate from an opticians’ chart. McCretton herself is an engaging, versatile performer, moving from exuberant Singing In The Rain-style dance to Cossack whirling. She effortlessly alternates roles, from the bedraggled pooch to stern Red Army officer and dotty Soviet scientist, in a show that is frequently moving as well as great fun.
(Allan Radcliffe -- The List -- 4/5 Stars -- 16 August 2006)
A RARE SENSATION (4 STARS) --- This is the story of the first dog in space (as put there by the Soviets), told by one woman with a stack of ingenious props. Backed by dreamy piano music, the sole performer moves gracefully through her unique interpretation, communicating through stylised movements and a dramatic soundtrack, similar to that used in a silent movie, rather than relying on dialogue. One child found parts a bit overwhelming, and indeed the concepts were at times bleak. However, most kids were drawn in by the magical ideas and were ecstatic during the ingenious audience participation. Ultimately, the daringly visual production proved very effective, the children seeming slightly entranced by the calming effect of a non-sensory overload, a rare sensation indeed.
(Three Weeks -- 4/5 Stars -- 24 August 2006)
EXCELLENT MIME (4 STARS) --- The best of the three kids' shows we have seen so far. Excellent mime -- very entertaining.
("Helen" -- Audience Review -- Muttnik Edinburgh Show Page -- 4/5 Stars -- August 2006)
INVENTIVE & HUMOUROUS (3 STARS) --- Niki McCretton devised the story of Muttnik, a stray scavenging on the streets of Moscow until one day she is captured and taken to the Russian Space Centre. Through her curiosity and ingenuity, she is eventually launched into space. Based on the true story of the 1957 Sputnik 2 rocket-dog, McCretton performs this one-woman show with ease and to great effect. She encourages the audience to join in, in various ways, and uses her minimal props in numerous inventive and humourous ways. Adults and children alike seemed to enjoy this fusion of physical theatre and mime. The appearance of the puppet Muttnik was also appealing and when Niki took her outside after the show, all the kids had a chance to meet her. A very pleasant way to start off a day of Fringe viewing.
(One4Review.com -- 3/5 Stars -- August 2006)
A YOUTHFUL PERSPECTIVE (3 STARS) --- We went to see Muttnik: The First Dog In Space at the Pleasance Courtyard. This is a children’s show about the first dog in space. This show is fun and gets all the family involved. Niki McCretton is a “one-man band” and acts five characters: a dog, a news reporter, an old woman, a scientist and a Russian soldier all interested in the launch of the first dog that goes into space. There are no spoken words in Muttnik -- all communication is done by huge gestures and massive lip movements. This show is recommended for ages three-to-eleven, but we think it should be for children between 2-8. The venue is a nice small theatre, but you’re on the stage when you sit in the front row. In the show, a stray dog in captured by a scientist and is sent into space. There was a bit of audience participation and two people got up on stage. There were quite a few people in the audience, but it was mainly children and parents. The audience was very lively and participated greatly. We would recommend this show to younger children, especially boys.
("Jenna & Josh" -- Participants of Week One (31 July-04 August 2006) of Media Education's Festival Radio Project -- 3/5 Stars)
(ARCHIVE EDITOR'S NOTE --- The following miscellaneous reviews, previews and comments regarding Muttnik: The First Dog In Space were gleaned at random from the Internet.)
INVENTIVE NIKI'S TALE HAS CHILDREN SPELLBOUND --- Niki McCretton told the story of Muttnik, the first dog in space, without saying a word. Using dance, movement, puppetry and a deal of facial expressions and physical gesture, she took the young audience into a journey into the cosmos. Her self-devised, one-hour show celebrated the child-friendly Egg Theatre's first birthday as well as the 50th anniversary of the Soviet Union's canine space shot that made Laika the dog a Russian hero. McCretton not only told Muttnik's story from stray dog to space dog, but also fleshed out other characters. She began as a playful street dog and through her training became a more mature hound, but always retained her sense of play. The very young children immediately identified with the naughty side of McCretton's portrayal. Spinning around the set that comprised only the most basic props, McCretton conveyed an optimism and a zest in her movement and expression.
(Harry Mottram -- The Bristol Evening Post -- 5/5 Stars -- 24 October 2006 -- Abridged Online Review from 23 October 2006 performances at The Egg Theatre at Theatre Royal Bath, Bath, North East Somerset, U.K.)
COMPLETELY RIVETING --- Niki McCretton’s ability to be a dog is incredible. Her one-woman show is funny, sad, moving, ludicrous and -- above all -- completely riveting. Her warmth and compassion for the dog that was the first to go where no dog had been before is palpable. Drawing her audience into this amazing saga, Niki physically invites someone, usually a delighted child from the audience, to join her for part of her performance. This is a most unusual show full of surprises and quirkiness which children just love. Niki is a most extraordinary talent.
(Unattributed Preview -- Somewhere Special Website -- South Hams, South Devon, U.K. -- September 2006)
COR! SHE SHOULD BE A REVIEWER! --- Totally unrelated, but hope it fills the blog ether... Muttnik: The First Dog In Space was brilliant, by the way! Niki McCretton gave a top-notch and highly-energetic performance, and kids and adults alike had an out-of-this-world time! Cor, I could be a reviewer on Front Row with one-liners like that.
(Karen Weynberg -- "PM" Program Blog -- BBC Radio Four -- 04 October 2006)
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Webpage Last Updated 17 May 2007