‘There is a man on our moon, our moon, as we speak and we know cos we can watch it on television’
It’s 1969 and the world is glued to tiny black and white screens, waiting to see those first steps. Humankind would walk on a surface so incomprehensible that for thousands of years cultures believed it to be a magical rabbit, the silver wheels of a goddess’s chariot or simply made of emmental. Part of this fascination is the ever-present spectre of impending disaster, that a trip could potentially be one-way. The astronauts will have prepared a speech – a well crafted wringing out of the globe’s hearts that will (spoiler alert) remain a perfect draft.
It’s an evening of possibility and potential catastrophe also for Sylvia Moone (Rose Wyatt) and her on-off friend and lover Dennis (Thomas Pickles). At the end of this night an unstoppable momentum will have been ignited that will result in Moone’s granddaughter (named for her gran and also played by Wyatt) 80+ years from now preparing to become the first woman on Mars. Two women, generations apart, who want nothing more than to escape being weighed down by earthly concerns and consequences. Though they might be very different star children (one likes drugs and communes, the other is an elite NASA astronaut), they share stratospheric dreams. Nuanced and full of expression in every word and gesture, Wyatt holds this thread between the two Sylvias, whilst keeping them distinct, multifaceted characters.
Andrew Thompson’s play was chosen out 1629 submissions to Theatre 503’s 2016 playwriting award. As a script, it has just about everything: Space! Feminist Issues! Critical consideration of political PR! A sexy, faceless astronaut! with a damn good story to boot. It feels like a piece that was missing from the canon with irresistible characters for actors to get their teeth into, and I expect to see it revived many, many times; coming soon to student production or audition room near you.
Overlaps with the recent (and also brilliant) Anatomy of a Suicide by Alice Birch at the Royal Court are impossible to ignore, with this intergenerational narrative also showing the oppressed longings and societal constrictions of women as internalised and passed down from mother to daughter. Despite the Moone family line being punctuated midway by first Sylvia’s son Neil – a clearly loving, grounded man played with real warmth by Will Norris – it is the sins and desires of mothers that are the true legacy here. Employing the same motif as Anatomy, the dressing of the Moone mother and daughters by other characters visualises the roles that they take on and off, too frequently put upon them by others. Even when the parts they take on are apparently selfless, the emotional fallouts are obvious; Alicya Eyo smoulders with a quiet dignity and barely concealed fire as Neil’s wife Julie, having buried her own dreams of travel and career for the best of her daughter.
The men in this story make much of fetishizing motherhood, even praising the quality in ducks, but in doing so reduce the women they love to wombs. Even the ever-adoring Dennis tempers his proposal to the pregnant Sylvia with pointing out that now she’s massive, no one else will want her. She is reduced by her very fullness. At the other extreme, future Sylvia is tutted at for not having switched off her fertility, essential if she wants to be equal to the men: we can apparently get to Mars but a period in anti-gravity? Inconceivable. Before you say, ‘not all interplanetary missions’, remember that in 1983 astronaut Sally Ride was asked by NASA if 100 tampons would be ‘the right number’ for a one week space flight.
The enticing of the Moone women to flight is beautifully elegiac of the constant push and pull between concepts of home and of escape. As she gazes into the TV at those first men, dreaming of places as yet untrodden, Sylvia sums up the optimism of the world in that moment: ‘Please don’t die, moon people’. She has to know that there is more to life on earth, even if it means leaving.
In Event of Moone Disaster is on until 28 October 2017 at Theatre503. Click here for more details.