Love, Robots, and 40 Puppets: Kid Koala’s ‘Nufonia Must Fall’

What do you get when you combine 20 miniature movie sets, three-dozen puppets, a string quartet, three turntables and five video cameras?

A theater production called Nufonia Must Fall that’s a little complicated to describe.

The show is based on a graphic novel of the same name by Eric San, aka DJ Kid Koala. The name is a nod to the words “no fun” spelled backwards and San says that can be interpreted a couple of ways.

It could describe a place where there is no fun, ”or it can be a state of mind where your own worries and fears can inhibit you from enjoying your time when you’re here,” said San.

The production tells the story of Robot, an older model machine who is getting pushed out of each job he gets by a newer, faster, six-handed robot. (San was in the midst of what he calls “quarter-life” crisis while on tour with the likes of Radiohead and Ninja Tune when he was creating this story.)  

“So the protagonist is kind of going through a bit of a crisis there and he meets Malorie and he’s trying to write love songs but he can’t sing,” said San.

Malorie is a female roboticist and Robot’s instant love-interest. What ensues is a sort of a comedy of errors love story, but the theater show is anything but a simple adaptation of this story.

On the top half of the stage, projects what looks like a stop-motion or Claymation film-version of the story—think Nightmare Before Christmas or Fantastic Mr. Fox.

In black and white, Malorie, Robot and their surroundings move and play with the shadows in dramatically lit scenes, hearkening back to the Charlie Chaplin films that inspired the original graphic novel. This aesthetic sensibility is heavily influenced by K.K. Barrett, who directs the show. His other works include “Being John Malkovich,” “Her” and “Where The Wild Things Are,” which all exhibit a sort of dreamy quality he also brings to this project.

As your eyes move down, closer to the stage, you see a string quartet, the Afiara quartet, and San, surrounded by keyboards and turntables, “a veritable UFO of weird percussion instruments and synthesizers and all these noise makers.”

Together, they live score the otherwise-silent movie. The musicians juggle kazoos and slide whistles that give life to the characters, like foley artists, playing all the rustles and sounds of their movements. San scratches records and run his vocals through filters: his more industrial sounds give “voice” to Robot.

And then if you shift your eyes again, there are dozens of miniature sets all around the stage. They look like movie sets, except measured in inches instead of feet: a city, an ice-skating rink, and the inside of a home.

Huddled around one of these sets, a troupe of three puppeteers subtly bringing plastic to life. This is what’s being projected above: live shots of these puppets.

“It starts with something very…

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