Reviews OWE & Fringe Published 17 April 2015


Shoreditch Town Hall ⋄ 9th - 22nd April 2015

One small step.

Amelia Forsbrook
Travelling through space and time.

Travelling through space and time.

There’s a constant, inconsolable and circular longing in Pioneer, as if to go where no man has even been before serves only as an inherent reminder of all that is left behind. In this broad-spanning space-themed piece, devised by Curious Directive and notably informed by astrobiologist Dr. Lewis Dartnell, varied characters circle knowledge like satellites – every discovery working only to quell another form of knowledge.

On a deep sea mission in the Pacific, Dutch Marine Biologist Maartje Van der Berg is all set to identify non-carbon life – her sense of dedication to finding something new in this strange environment only matched in its ferocity by her persistent emails to Indian-born Flight Director, Shari Dasgupta, who holds the keys to Maartje’s missing sister’s whereabouts. Meanwhile, on a road trip from Moscow to Siberia, brothers Ivan and Alyosha Korolev fight over the importance of their roots. Ivan, with one hand steering his scruffy Lada Sputnik and the other grasping a bottle of vodka, is the stereotypical Russian, on a quest to find out more about his great grandfather; Alyosha’s longings, meanwhile, steer closer towards America. Further away in mind than in body, and completely alone in her spaceship, Maartje’s sister Imke crosses a line from anticipation to memory once her husband is lost from the mission.

In different ways, each character simultaneously aspires to reach human proximity and academic distance, preparing to take scientific knowledge to new frontiers, all the while clinging on to reminders from the past. As future discovery looms limitless, the individuals within this piece gravitate towards discussing Adam and Eve – and the original pioneering couple makes for a challenging recurring theme as it symbolises both a return to paradise, and the urgent, primeval drive to break the boundaries. Shari’s work is motivated by her attempts to prove that “a strong emotional connection between astronauts is vital to psychological survival”. Sabotaging these efforts, Maartje smuggles a reference to Genesis into a conversation with her isolated sister – a coded attempt to halt progress, perhaps, or a reminder of the woman who first went against the rules, using sin to trump simulation. As Alyosha expresses in another scene, “Eve sacrificed herself because she wanted more”.

Cecilia Carey’s dynamic, electronic design is a strong and engaging match for this intelligent scientific collaboration. As multimedia installations are projected upon clean-cut sliding set pieces, Carey shuffles place and time with fluidity and apparent ease. The mobile and thoroughly versatile set also informs the diverse drives and journeys present in the script: in the context of outer space, bisected hoops provide a technical grounding and white stools against a plain white backdrop apply zero gravity with understated style; when characters explore new psychological states, Carey’s works encourage a meditation upon more abstract elements. Video Designer Jasmine Robinson adds an emotive honeycomb of nostalgic images, that is chipped away as scientific progress triumphs over personal experience. Jun, Imke’s portable, personified space camera, is a triumph from Prop Maker Hannah Wales as it brings together the wistful spirit of puppetry, with a futuristic AI element. Operated with sensitive dexterity by Caitlin Ince, Jun’s grace brings to mind marine biology and mechanic engineering. Yet, thanks to the puppeteer’s smooth gestures and synthetic tones, the machine becomes more personable than Shari, the clinical, no nonsense Flight Director.

While the complex knot of characters might get you fruitlessly seeking constellations, if you can get past the murkiness of the relationships and the loosely connected story, this is a rich, imagination and cleverly woven piece of storytelling. The concern with media discussions of space travel – seen in cheesy, Big Brother-style Landings Live – seem a little flimsy, and the notion that to be a pioneer means to cross a line is occasionally treacly in its application. In such a context, it’s the characters’ attempts to understand each other that have the most astronomical effect. “Like Louise and Thelma” quips road-tripping Ivan, in a clumsy attempt to navigate the distance between himself and his newly Americanised brother. Pioneer ultimately excels as it clashes rediscovery against discovery, and in this way sheds light on what is already known.


Amelia Forsbrook

As a Wales Arts International critic, Amelia toured India with National Dance Company Wales to discover whether national identity abroad could ever amount to more than dragons, sausages and leeks. After moving to London in early 2012, Amelia has continued working as a critic and arts commentator. With particular interests in regional arts, South Asian performance, twentieth century European theatre and quirky little numbers involving improvisation, emotional outburst and abandoned buildings, Amelia writes for a number of publications, as well as being a Super Assessor for the Off West End Awards (The Offies) and Associate Editor at Bare Fiction.

Pioneer Show Info

Produced by Curious Directive / Norfolk and Norwich Festival / Watford Palace Theatre

Directed by Jack Lowe

Written by Curious Directive

Cast includes Jesse Briton, Flora Denman, James Hardy, Caitlin Ince, Avita Jay, Dudley Rees




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