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reviews for Flyboy is alone again this Christmas

Matthew Robins's charming, sometimes heartbreaking little stories are delivered as adult shadow-puppet operas, comprising homemade cardboard figures and sets, and accompanied by a superb eight-piece band.
They create a complete world, one that's full of loss and unrequited love, but with a surreal and occasionally snappy humour . . .
The whole thing feels like watching a silent movie in which every aspect has been created by a wayward child genius.

The Guardian

It’s easy to see why audiences and theatremakers alike are beguiled by this kooky West Country artist, whose brand of low-fi storytelling taps into our new-found affection for the homemade and wholesome.
Robins’ homespun tales mix the everyday with the surreal and are delivered in a chatty, cosy style, accompanied by a hodgepodge seven-piece band and illustrated with nothing more than an
overhead projector and pieces of cardboard
The Stage

This minutely crafted tribute to nostalgia, disappointment and the power of the imagination will appeal to your inner Peter Pan

It brings the authors madness and genius to the fore – coupled with an on stage orchestra, in which talented Matthew Robins himself also champions the piano and vocals.
As a relatively lengthy production that balances the fun of simple child-like art with mature folklore, romantic- and science-fiction type stories, it successfully finds the middle ground making the play
a must see for the heartier kid who can live without the “happily ever-after” finale, and also inevitably, a play that the kid in every adult shall relish!
Camden Gazette

Even in the darkest moments there is a lightness that elicits sympathetic “awwws” from the audience.  Robins is funny and entertaining enough to make the absurdity enjoyable, the tangents less jarring.
The Financial Times

The Cornish puppeteer and musician Matthew Robins appears to have little trouble exposing his inner child.  The unabashed yet self-deprecating openness of his personality is a big part of what makes this rambling,
overextended but agreeably cosy showcase of his work so endearing.
Robins’s music is in the indie-folk vein. Peppered with pop inflections, the tunes slip easily between tempos that vary from klezmer-like jauntiness to a lilting waltz. The tales they convey are odd slivers of surreal whimsy, most of which feature the titular Flyboy.
What drives his miniaturist universe is the romance of friendship and, as a corollary, an underlying longing to belong. It’s a place of boyhood crushes, loneliness and gentle obsessions  that contain an implied tolerance for taking people as they are.
The Times

reviews for Beauty and the Beast

Matthew Robins skilfully advances the narrative through a series of silhouettes that have something of the deft wit of Picasso sketches.
The Guardian

Matthew Robins's incomparably eldritch shadow puppets: snipped with gothic delicacy from black paper, their crooked fingers reach directly into your imagination.

Shadow play whisks us through sequences of narrative with witty silhouettes depicting insubordinate topiary that shifts when Beauty's back is turned and cakes and jellies that shake with mirth at a good human joke.
The Independent

reviews for
Something Very Far Away

Emma Watkins, What'sOnStage, 7th June 2012 *****

Entering the Unicorn Theatre’s Clore Studio, you're greeted by a bewildering array of techie gadgets spread across the stage. There are lights, tripods, cameras, projectors, screens and a mixing desk, but no room for actors… a pretty big clue that you're about to witness something out of the ordinary.

The show is, in fact, completely extraordinary. The action is animated before your eyes by five performers through the use of puppetry, shadow puppetry, projection, lights and live and recorded music. It can be said with some certainty that this is a theatrical experience unlike any you will have had before.

The story, written by Mark Arends, is simple. An astronomer loses his wife in a tragic circus accident and, remembering that "the deeper into space you look, the further into the past you see", he decides to build a spaceship to see if the same is true in reverse. If he travels away from Earth and looks back, will he be able to see his wife again?

It can be said with some certainty that this is a theatrical experience unlike any you will have had before. Matthew Robins’ design and animation is exceptional. The techniques in use are constantly changing but seamlessly mixed, providing angles and effects of which any animated film-maker would be proud. The possibility to glance away from the action on the main screen to watch the creative processes involved reminds us, however, that this is all being done live. I defy any audience member not to remain entranced for the show’s (all-too-short) 35-minute duration.

Declan Randall’s lighting design perfectly sets the mood for each scene, with one particularly magical sequence that seems to envelop the audience as the spaceship makes its journey through the universe.

This is a beautiful show, telling an uncomplicated but moving story about the lengths to which people will go to remember their lost loved ones. Told in an endlessly inventive way that will enthral adults and children, it is quite simply captivating.

Jake Orr, A Younger Theatre, 7th June 2012

When Purni Morell took over the artistic direction of The Unicorn Theatre there was an air of excitement over the work and artists which she could bring across from her time leading the National Theatre Studio. Something Very Far Away, a piece first developed under Morell’s leadership by Mark Arends and Matthew Robins at the NT Studio is given a full mounting in the studio at The Unicorn Theatre, and rightly so. A tale of heartbreaking beauty and tender loss, which travels to the outer depths of space in the search of universal answers to love and life. Whilst billed for ages eight and above, it could render any adult blubbering into their tissues. It is a production of epic proportions told in miniature puppets and animations.

Robins is no stranger to giving a quirky story a twist of animated life; his continuous adventures with Fly Boy (yes, a boy who is a fly) have been running for several years, played with a band of musical players and puppeteers. Whilst Arends may not be known for his creative style, his work with Katie Mitchell in recent years in productions such as The Cat in the Hat and Beauty and the Beast have clearly edged him into the fun-filled quirkiness of thinking imaginatively with theatre. Something Very Far Away, at just 35 minutes long, is a wonderfully inventive and playful piece written and directed by Arends with puppetry and design by Robins – a delightful collaborative pairing.

The story is extremely simplistic but this makes it even more endearing. Kepler, after losing his wife Tomasina in a tragic circus accident, sets about building a rocket in his home that will fly him to a distant planet. For it is only by seeing into outer space, will he be able to see the past that has been. Kepler travels for light years, stopping at planets and gazing back at the world he left behind. He even reaches the end of the universe (it’s still under construction) in his quest for the enduring the love he once had. Poetic, silent and beautifully emotive, this tender tale is lovingly played out for its audience through projection, animation and simple puppetry.
Similar to Robins’s previous work, and touching on filmic qualities of another puppetry company The Paper Cinema, Something Very Far Away uses cameras and layering of rod and shadow puppetry to blend this poetic story. Through its simplistic nature, which has a rough-around-the-edges and hand-made quality to it, we get lost in Kepler’s tale, perfectly manipulated by the puppeteers against live guitar and recorded soundtracks. The piece is inherently a silent one, but the tale is clear and the themes universal.

It’s great to see a show aimed at young people aged revelling  some of the more complex emotions that we humans experience. The loss of a loved one is never easy, and here I speak as someone who has recently been bereaved, but in Something Very Far Away is is never played down, never simplified for the audience’s sake; it is, as grief is, simple and honest, a declaration of love that is universal and endless. For those who do take young children there is nothing to fear in this work, it should be celebrated for its level of maturity and beauty.

Lyn Gardner, The Guardian, Sunday 10th June 2012 ****

How far would you go for love? That's a question raised in this infinitely touching little piece about deep space and deep affection that uses live animation techniques similar to those used by Paper Odyssey, so that you see the show being created before your very eyes. The puppets and the settings are manipulated by the performers in front of video cameras while at the same time you see the projected image up on a massive screen. You know that rain falling is created with a sieve; the explosive crackle of a cannon is a lit sparkler, and you can see that the planets are made out of papier mache.

Oddly, seeing the process of creation alongside the final created images doesn't detract from the experience, but actually magnifies it. This show may be small – a mere 35 minutes long – but it is big in every way, particularly its emotions. At its heart is Keppler, an astronomer who loves the stars and his wife. But when she is killed in a circus accident, Keppler remembers that the deeper into space you look, the further into the past you see.

Emotionally, the show taps into intense feelings of loss and the urge to see your beloved one last time. But the whole thing – suitable for the over eights – is done with a lightness of touch and a delightful quirkiness. Despite the amount of kit, this is actually a very low-tech show whose real strength is its consummate storytelling, with echoes of Orpheus and Eurydice. The only thing that would improve it would be if audiences got a chance to play with the techniques themselves afterwards. Then this wouldn't just be gorgeous, it would be truly inspirational, too.

Penny Francis, Animations Online, 6th June 2012

Brecht believed in the suppression of dishonest illusion and the involvement of the spectators in performance. He was part of a zeitgeist which brought the puppeteers onto the stage in an attempt to denude the puppets of their ‘magic’ life, to show the mechanics of their artificiality. I wonder what Brecht would have thought of some of the new puppetry, seen in the work of Paper Cinema and Matthew Robins, where there is not only the visible puppeteer and the controls of the puppets, but in addition a very forest of technology – cameras, cables, screens, lighting and sound equipment - all of which confront the audience on entering. Absolute death to illusion, you might think – but at least to some extent you would be wrong. After the showing of Something Very Far Away at the Unicorn’s theatre for young people, one spectator confessed to weeping at the plight of the puppet couple separated by death but reunited in the stars.

She had reacted to the simplest and most unlikely of love stories told with roughly made and manipulated puppets and shaky little props, contrasted with delicate and beautiful backgrounds and sets both two- and three-dimensional, all of which were managed by four operators scuttling back and forth between the six work stations from which the action was projected onto the big screen at the back of the cluttered staging area. There remained little room for imagination. Yet somehow, for some of the people present, illusion – the belief in the characters and their story - was maintained.

For me, and probably for many, interest in the mechanics and the actions of the operators held my attention more than the distilled story shown on the screen. Something Very Far Away was written and directed by Mark Arends, with expert lighting by Declan Randall. The five performers, who acted as manipulators not only of rod puppet figures but of cameras and musical instruments (and more), were Mark Arends (‘music’ the programme says), David Emmings, Avya Leventis, Julia Slienger and Ben Whybrow, all excellent contributors to a complicated but thoroughly professional show.

The unique style of Matthew Robins’ silhouettes is now well-known, as is his character ‘Flyboy’. His work has been projected onto the flytower (a deliberate association?) of the National Theatre and he is now working with the National on an adaptation of the Macdonald fairy story about the Light Princess.