Despite its extra-terrestrial title, Moon Project remains firmly on solid ground. Quiet and inward-looking, the piece reflects on human connections and what it means to return home by telling the story of two strangers with vastly different ways of life and the crisis which brings them together.
The germ of the idea, explains Rachel Blackman in the programme, was a viewing of a documentary about ex-Apollo mission astronauts and their struggle to readjust to life after such a unique, life changing experience. The life-changing experiences she chooses to explore here are a little closer to home – bereavement, a break up, an accident – but the point remains the same. Unique life experiences can bind us together as people but they can also be acutely isolating.
The parallel with the returning astronauts is apposite, but it doesn’t really come through in the final incarnation of the piece. Here the theme of space travel has become a rather awkward frame of reference, an oblique symbol which never seems fully realised.
Indeed, from the very beginning we are required to make a leap of faith. The storytelling is unconventional, making use of non-linear narrative, digressions of memory and surreal movement sequences. It’s not always easy to tell exactly what is happening, or to feel a connection to the characters. The two performers, Rachel Blackman and Jules Munns, play the primary roles of Shahab and Leila – the two strangers whose connection does not become apparent until near the end – as well as the various characters from each other’s past. Sometimes these transitions are seamless. At one point Blackman removes her glasses to become one of Shahab’s ex-lovers; sometimes it is intentionally, humorously jarring, such as when Munns becomes Leila’s female, Australian, sky-diving instructor. This all adds up to a fragmented, composite picture which takes time and patience to fully form, but which gradually becomes something beautiful.
This is an ambitious piece, skilfully performed and well-directed by Paul Hodson and Emma Roberts, but it sets itself many challenges – perhaps too many. It tries to portray as fully and realistically as possible the lives of these two people and the impact their meeting has on both of them; it attempts to dramatise moments of sobering reflective thought, and marry this with an elevated level of symbolism. Though it meets these challenges with varying measures of success, the spirit of collaboration and experimentation is very much alive in this piece, even if it does not quite take off.