How a robot in love made it to the big screen

"Nufonia Must Fall" Kid Koala Arts performing festival Noorderzon 2014 photo © Pierre Borasci

Now you might have thought puppets were for kids, and a sweet tale about a robot falling in love might be a tad insubstantial. You’d be wrong. Nufonia Must Fall is indeed a charming, touchingly intimate tale; but it’s delivered without any saccharine overtones, and it’s delivered in such an original way that you’ll be completely engaged.

Photo Pierre Borasci

Created by the Canadian DJ/producer and musician Kid Koala – better known to his mum as Eric San – and based on his graphic novel of the same name, this show is a live-action love story that mixes puppetry, video and music. Directed by top production designer KK Barrett (Where the Wild Things Are, Adaptation, Being John Malkovich; Oscar-nominated for Spike Jonze’s Her) and accompanied by the Afiara Quartet with Kid Koala himself on turntables and electronica, the performance is cinematically lit, filmed and edited live, and projected on a large screen.

The charming story centers around a headphones-sporting robot on the verge of obsolescence, who through the course of the story falls in love. The story unfolds via real-time filming of more than a dozen miniature stages and a cast of puppets, while Kid Koala and the Afiara Quartet provide original live music on piano, strings and turntables (composed by Kid Koala).

The result is that the audience seems to be watching an animated silent film (with virtually no dialogue), but simultaneously sees puppets being filmed (and projected) in real time. The video provides the focus for the action; but you can also make out the puppeteers as they roll in and out on low stools in the half-light, adjusting their puppets and revamping the scenery on the 14 miniature sets. This is deliberate, rooting the illusion of the story in the reality of its creation. “Part of the enjoyment is glancing from the screen to the dimly lighted stage, seeing the puppeteers move from backdrop to backdrop and watching the ingenuity of the perspective and the minuscule gestures that translate into big screen drama” (The New York Times).

The original score is varied and entertaining – you may be able to detect references to the soundtrack of Psycho and the jazz of Duke Ellington as well as dancehall scratching from Kid Koala and classical stylings from the string quartet.

All of these elements come together in real time thanks to a team of talented performers and technicians – as the Guardian put it, “the film, small and tender, could stand strong on its own, but the heart of the production lies in watching it being created”.

It’s magical, touching, intimate, and you’ll wonder how you could care so much for a robot’s happiness. “This delightful show delivers” as The Guardian review concluded.

Here’s a longish but entertaining explainer about the making of the show.

Nufonia Must Fall plays at NYU Abu Dhabi Arts Center in the Red Theatre at 8pm on 11 May and again at 4pm on 12 May. Tickets are free, but pre-register to ensure that you get a seat.


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