There’s not much science fiction on stage these days: in fact there’s practically none, and there never has been. Along with high fantasy and nature documentaries, it’s intuitively a genre ill suited to the theatre. All credit to Misshapen Theatre then, who have developed an evening of six short sci-fi dramas to prove that interstellar travel, global apocalypse and pleasure droids can fare perfectly well without oodles of CGI or air-fix models on strings. Blast Off! is sometimes pulpy, often slight, and more than a little rough round the edges, but none of that really matters: it’s also a fantastic proof of concept and a truly entertaining night in the theatre.
In Blast Off!, which certainly has the potential to become a regular event, six writers, each with a clutch of successes under their belts, take on the science fiction genre. The evening leans heavily towards the comic, beginning with Jonathan Brittain’s gentle Star Trek spoof ‘To Boldly Go…’. The jokes hit their mark, and Paul Heath makes an excellent Shatner-esque Captain, but Brittain does create a slight feeling of trepidation. Spoofs and sketches are the only format in which science fiction does appear on stage, and Blast Off! seems like an opportunity to try something a little more serious.
It’s with Gabriel Bisset-Smith’s excellent ‘Reach Me’ that the evening really ascends. The simple story of two co-workers, one of whom pines for the other, is brilliantly subverted by the addition of body-swap technology. As they discuss issues of racism in the workplace and the Man (Nick Lawson) edges towards a declaration of love, their constant body switching, accomplished via an undisclosed industrial process, allows for some stellar writing. Like the best of The Twilight Zone or E.C comics of the 1950’s, Bisset-Smith uses a science fiction mechanic to bring a new perspective to a very human drama.
Kenneth Emerson’s ‘Soyuz 40’ lurches away from science fiction per se, but is nevertheless an engaging story of social isolation, made all the more tragic by the acknowledgement of a parallel reality where Robert (Bradley Peter) gets the girl and escapes his fate. Of all the works premiered this evening, Emerson’s was the one which could have most benefited from a longer presentation. In contrast, Hannah Rodger’s ‘The Mother of All Knowledge’, feels stretched even at less than fifteen minutes. The confrontation between an art teacher and her ex-pupil, who is now in charge of replacing all teachers with computer simulations, it’s too pat and far too preachy.
Both ‘Siri 5.0 ‘by Lucinda Burnett and ‘Love on a Doomed Planet’ by Melissa Bubnic return to the comedic, but both are also conceptually original and wittily written. Burnett’s piece begins with the fantastically absurd image of a woman (Emma Harriett) trapped beneath her own Apple sex-bot (Alex Croft). Filled with sharp one-liners and ending with surprising pathos, it’s a winning little love story. Bubnic’s play is similarly sweet, as an elderly couple use their final minutes on earth to air some risqué truths. Convincing performances from Jennie Lathan and Andrew Macbean give ‘Love on a Doomed Planet’ real heart, and it’s a suitably apocalyptic way to end the show.
Sketch group ‘Sheeps’ provide a welcome and very funny interlude, adding to the feeling that Misshapen Theatre have really pulled out the stops for their first Blast Off! It’s an evening that’s been put together with love and imagination, and should surely merit a longer run on its next appearance. Credit also to Theatre 503 for demonstrating that ‘Fearless New Writing’ describes more than formally, socially or politically contentious new work: that it can also embrace this kind of joyously batty experimentation.