If you catch a balloon and don’t let go, where will it take you? To a happier place? Upwards to the Moon? To a dream world, maybe? This whimsical story for older children and adults proposes a balloon as a means of escape, whether from a humdrum job or from the pain of loneliness. It’s billed as a reflection on the importance of play; but sadly, despite some commendably eye-catching imagery, that core message remains frustratingly obscure.
We begin by watching an unpleasantly domineering boss, the fusion of all business stereotypes, harassing his long-suffering assistant Julia – who may or may not be falling in love with his new hire, Leonard. As Leonard languishes in a pointless job, Julia’s mother – magnificently played by a man – plots with the boss to foil the burgeoning romance. All this is played out in a stylised dream world, full of industrial greyness and time-worn decay… until, that is, Leonard chances upon the bright red balloon which transforms his life.
At its best, Don’t Let Go is completely absorbing, and a few of the images it conjures are truly beautiful. There’s a perfectly-evoked storm, combining clever projection and purposeful physicality to convey the wind and rain. Umbrellas become birds, with an ease and fidelity I could never have imagined. And there’s a nice visual quirkiness running throughout the production, from the tiny detail of a clock with spoons for hands to the rotating pair of chairs which forms the centrepiece of the set.
But for me at least, it’s all just a little too inscrutable. I never felt fully in command of the plot; it’s got something to do with coffee beans, but the concept was just too abstract for me to hang onto. The energy levels felt a little low to me, as well; the piece struck me as languid at times when it could have been uplifting, and the flight of the balloon itself wasn’t as joyful as it might have been.
Still, there are some lovely details, including an interlude of Dr-Seuss-style poetry and a charming vision of what it would be like to climb a ladder to the moon. So it’s sweet and stylish, and has a moral of a kind – but it’s a piece which I found offered more confusion than clarity.