MUTTNIK: The First Dog in Space
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Exuberant True Story
Niki McCretton's version of the true story of Laika the first Russian space dog (dubbed Muttnik by the Americans) represents kid's 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 optician's chart.
McCretton herself is an engaging and versatile performer, moving from exuberant Singing in the Rain-style dance to Cossack whirling. She effortlessly alternated roles, from the bedraggled pooch to Red Army officer and dotty Soviet scientist, in a show that is frequently moving as well as great fun.
Four Star Review - The List 16/8/06,
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 here 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.
Four star Review - The Herald 25/8/06
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.
Four Star Review, Three Weeks - Edinburgh Festival 24/8/06
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.
5/5 Stars - The Bristol Evening Post, The Egg Theatre, Bath, UK 24/10/06
Advertised as "a physical theatre show for children and childish adults", all I knew about Muttnik 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 (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 trench coat 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!
The Press Gang, The Egg Theatre, Bath, UK 23/10/06