It’s the not-too-distant future. Jenny is an ordinary woman who hangs out with her mates, works in a pub and goes home each night to her very ordinary boyfriend, Tom. Then she gets contacted by a mysterious agency, brought in for tests and made to sign documents. It all happens incredibly quickly. She soon discovers that she’s been chosen to go into space – to travel to Europa, one of Jupiter’s moons – in a solo, one-way mission.
There are a series of imaginative and striking physical routines which permeate the story. The play opens with one such sequence; the whole history of space exploration mapped out by the ensemble’s physicality and a few hand-held lights.
The plot is relatively simple. We know from the start that Jenny makes it to Europa, and the focus of the play is less about the mission than the training leading up to it. The story is a little ramshackle, mostly because of the muddled intentions behind the mission itself and the motivation of the characters. It’s somewhat unclear why exactly Jenny was picked for the mission. We’re told a little about a failed Mars mission and the public reaction, though we aren’t shown these things enough, or with enough conviction.
“You,” the ambitious Mr Walker tells Jenny, “would be the first to colonise Europa.”
How can one woman singlehandedly colonise a moon? What is the actual purpose of sending a bartender with no experience? These are some of the fundamental plot points left unclear within the piece. And although there’s a good deal of humour to this sci-fi, it isn’t a spoof like Kill the Beast or Sleeping Trees’ productions. The tone is sincere; the plot revolves around facts and research, but certain key elements of the mission either aren’t too clear or just don’t ring true.
The characters’ motivations aren’t entirely understandable either. It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly why Jenny wants to go on this mission. We’re told about how ordinary her life was before conscription, but we’re not shown much of this life at all. If we saw more of Jenny previously, and her relationship with Tom, then her decision to go might become clear to us. The trouble is the characters don’t feel like they ever existed prior to the play’s opening scene. Most of that comes from the dramaturgy; the company are natural story-tellers, fantastic in their performances and choreographed movement, but this is a dialogue-heavy piece and their scripting needs a little work.
Stella Backman gives a strong and candid performance as Jenny. Chris Yarnell plays her poor boyfriend convincingly. Martin Chime and Jordan Turner are less convincing as Walker and his dogsbody Mason, but their physical work is superb. Lucy Bishop is a strong performer who has a real presence within this ensemble.
Despite its plot flaws, The Mission is a compelling and promising first show from a young company with a real talent and dedication to devising.