Sydney’s Hayes Theatre, a dedicated small space for musical theatre and cabaret, has branched out now into school holiday, family-friendly fare. The show that marks this growth is Akio!, a devised physical/dance theatre piece that draws heavily on video game reference and stylistic choice to share what is, at its heart, a simple and positive message.
Akio (Kevin Clayette) gets bullied in school, so instead he puts all his energy into video games, taking on quests to save various princesses. When Yuuta (Aaron Sweeten) steals his handheld gaming device and a scuffle ensues, Akio and his friends are transported into the device and right into the heart of the game.
Akio is immediately the hero of the story with a princess to save – and the princess just happens to be Harumi (Demitra Alexandria), Akio’s real-life crush. Friends and teachers populate the game, acting as mentors and informants and villains.
It’s a charming, borderline interpretive piece, with enthusiastic performances across the board; martial-arts infused dance; (choreographed by Vanessa Morrison) brief, authentic-looking game animation (by James O’Brien); and costuming (by Julia Gorman) that nods to anime and Japanese video game design.
Video game references fly fast and loose in the production – everything from The Legend of Zelda to Tamagotchi – and Akio faces off against his villains Mortal Kombat style. Will he rescue Harumi and return home? Will he find a way to win without doing something hurtful and drastic?
Of course, being a show primarily for children, it wraps up positively, tying a gentle bow around its stance on dealing with difficult people: meet them with compassion, rather than with hostility.
That’s a pretty good message to place at the heart of your school holiday programming, and it’s a sweet, light story that, under the direction of Jade Alex, keeps its story moving quickly and keeps the running time down to best capture audience attention.
Perhaps the best thing about the show is its embrace of movement, dance, and multimedia storytelling; this is a show that will speak to a restless child (or adult) who is used to looking at messages and listening to voices simultaneously, who plays games and lives through apps and has no idea how someone can fly through the air – but can feel magic when they do.