On our overpopulated, ‘migrant crisis’ aware, post-Trump election planet, looking up into space, to what is beyond is more alluring than ever. Space Play is one of nearly a dozen shows to be appearing at the Vault Festival this year that allude to space, and indeed the venue has adopted space as its overarching theme. It’s by no means new to see play’s adopting the topic, and Alistair’s McDowall’s new play X at the Royal Court was one my theatrical highlights of 2016, but in their choice of programming this year Vault have identified it as an area expanding nearly as rapidly as the universe itself.
So what have Brave Badger brought to the Vaults opening night to set their own Space Play apart? It is hardly genre-defining, as the name might suggest, but it does have a concept I have not come across in all my years of sci-fi consumption: the ‘space artist’. Part of a failed corporate PR exercise to send the first artist into space, artist Michael (Mark Knightley) finds himself the sole survivor of the crew. Hopeful his rescue will play out like a scene in the movies, he waits as the value of his art – and his life – are called into question
Space Play rips through Hollywood’s tropes and peels back all the gloss and glamour of the over-saturated ‘space movie’ market with some harsh home truths: money talks, love doesn’t conquer galaxies and technology, cold and heartless, will ultimately let us down and make us miserable. To bring the point home, the action is interspersed with movie moments, including ‘that’ Aerosmith song and a brief appearance from Matt Damon ‘Sciencing the shit’ out of something. The juxtaposition makes for some humorous moments, as do Michael’s increasingly exasperated conversations with those back on solid ground, brought to life imaginatively by Harriet Madeley.
Unfortunately, both actors struggled against the constraints of their venue, The Cavern, which swallowed their voices in places and struggled with severe sight line problems for anyone beyond the second row.
The production was at its best when it made use of the excellent sound and projection design from Martin Dewar of Complicite, in conjunction with the memorising lights of Lauren Pratt’s (Les Enfants Terrible) space capsule. In one sequence, the audience are plunged into complete darkness but for the whirling of stars and galaxies projected on the high arches of the Vaults above them, a real ‘wow’ moment. Adopting more projections and live audio-enhancing elements into the production, with less of the dialogue left unsupported, could have lifted the volume and the impact of the dialogue, as well as reinforcing the difficulties and distances involved in communicating across the vastness of space. It would just add that extra dimension of separation.
The stage, sound and projection design can be credited with continuing to push the technological perimeters of fringe theatre, which is ultimately very exciting. I hope to continue to see that looking to space can take theatre in new directions, across the festival.
Made and peformed by Mark Knightley and Harriet Madeley
Set design by Lauren Pratt
Projections by Martin Dewar
Costume by Jazmin Dervishali