FRINGE REVIEW – Time-Tastical Productions, Dr Austin and Sparks in Space


8-30 August (not 17) 14:20 (15:00)    @   C Central

We chose this show because we liked the title and our junior reviewer, Alex, is interested in space travel, planets and all things astronomical.  The premise of the show is that Dr Austin has a friend – a puppy Professor Sparks – who is very bright and knows all about space travel.  The puppy has invented a warp powered starship which works using negative energy which the audience summons up by shouting ‘meh’.

The show is aimed at small children, and on the day when our intrepid review team attended, there was a small group of children ranging in age from around 2 to 8, some of whom were too young to pay attention to such an advanced topic, and others of whom were quite happy to pay attention, but who knew quite a lot about the subject already.  It is likely that in order to have children who are prepared to sit still and listen, the show would have to be positioned to suit the 4 to 8 age group. 

The children were invited to join Professor Sparks on his journey into space, and asked to participate by answering questions and volunteering information.  There was some ‘business’ with an American flag which had been left on the moon by the first astronauts, which somehow didn’t quite work – it wasn’t really clear why a flag would talk when we already had a talking dog in the show.  The journey continued to Mars and the talking robot there was quite popular with the children but the highlight of the show came when there was an encounter with a black hole.  To tell any more would be to give the game away, but suffice it to say that the children joined in enthusiastically.

This show had a lot of promise and possibility but failed to meet expectations and was simply too short.  Billed as ‘40 minutes’, on the day we attended it started late to allow some members of the audience to have a comfort break beforehand, and then finished early – in all it was likely to have lasted only around 25 minutes.  This means that families who have paid in full for the tickets leave feeling rather short-changed.  The relationship between Dr Austin and Professor Sparks would probably be better if it were based around mutual support.  In the early exchanges between the two characters there are scenes where Professor Sparks (the dog) calls Dr Austin ‘stupid’ and ‘a loser’ – it’s not really the way children are encouraged to speak to one another and could do with being changed to show more mutual respect.  We are sure that with a little polish and some more material, this could have been resolved as the subject matter has plenty of scope and the children would gladly have provided some additional audience participation.  Children of the target age group are likely to know about some of the subjects covered and emphasis on finding out more about what the children could contribute could have added to the general knowledge sharing amongst the audience.

Added comments by Alex (8): “I liked Professor Sparks, but in Star Trek they travel at Warp Speed.”

Susan (Adult Reviewer): “With a little more work this show could reach out better to its target audience of 4-8 year olds and teach them more about space exploration”

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