REVIEW: Zoe’s Peculiar Journey Through Time, Theatre-Rites (Southbank Centre)

We all know that plastic pollution is a problem. Most primary children will be able to tell you that, but ask them how to solve it and they’ll be convinced we can save the world by crafting Christmas decorations out of Petit Filous pots. We’ve sat through our fair share of assemblies on how terrible plastic is, yet every time the school disco rolls around you can guarantee that there will be glow-sticks and glitter galore. Environmental issues may well be a hot topic but they are often covered superficially in schools and the same is true of a lot of children’s theatre. Over the last few years, we’ve seen plenty of shows that attempt to shoehorn in an environmental message, but it’s rare for a production to look beneath the surface. But Theatre-Rites have made it their mission to do just that in Zoe’s Peculiar Journey Through Time, which takes a deep dive into one of the most pressing issues on our planet. We headed to the Southbank Centre this weekend, where the show kicked off an Autumn tour.

Zoe’s Peculiar Journey Through Time sees Zoe (Shanez Pattni) taking an unexpected spin in her washing machine, catapulting her from her kitchen to a floating island of plastic. To make matters worse, Zoe seems to have found herself 100 years in the future, and the only way back is to work her way through a seemingly endless list of plastic that has washed up on the island over the years. Can Zoe complete her quest by sunset and get back to the safety of her kitchen? And will she work out why a mysterious spirit summoned her to the island in the first place?

It’s a well-constructed story with genuine depth to the narrative (written by Jimmy Osborne with Director, Sue Buckmaster), exploring not only the effect of plastic finding its way into the ocean but the harmful way in which it is produced in the first place. Alys Whitehead’s design (based on original designs by Joanna Parker) is inventive and engaging, making especially clever use of the washing machine. There is also some playful lighting design by Rajiv Pattani.

As you would expect of a Theatre Rites production, the show features some very innovative puppetry. There are some amazing puppets crafted from all sorts of recycled materials (with puppets made Naomi Oppenheim, Charlie Tymms and Rebekah Wild, and Stitches and Glue). They are all skillfully operated by Eden Harbud and Teele Uustani, who also play two of the three islanders that Zoe meets on her quest.

It’s also a very accessible production, with integrated BSL throughout and a signed performance at every venue. In these performances, the interpreter (Stacey Green) is carefully incorporated, feeling very much an integral part of the performance. There is also a lot of very physical, expressive movement on stage which does not rely on spoken word at all, particularly from Benedetta Zanetti who plays the loveable third islander.

Running at around 70 minutes (without an interval) it is perhaps a little long but does successfully retain the attention of the young audience throughout. The age recommendation is 6+ and we would suggest that it is especially well suited to KS1 and younger KS2 children. Quaver (nearly 10) felt that it was a little bit young for her, although she conceded that she had learned a lot more about plastic pollution than she had ever covered in school.

Overall, Zoe’s Peculiar Journey Through Time is an educational and visually stimulating piece of children’s theatre that carefully and thoroughly explores the ticking time bomb of plastic pollution.

Zoe’s Peculiar Journey Through Time played at the Southbank Centre from 2 to 3 September 2023 as part of an Autumn tour. We received complimentary press tickets to the afternoon performance on 2 September.

Age recommendation: 6-12 years.