“If an alien came and said they’d whisk you away a thousand billion miles, to a different planet, but you’d never come back, would you go?”
There’s something rather delicious about the winner of the Theatre503’s International Playwriting Award hailing from Sunderland but a Mackem Andrew Thompson is, and what a winner In Event of Moone Disaster proves to be. The title derives from the interesting tidbit that speechwriters at the time had to prepare for the Moon landing going wrong and though the play uses space travel as a springboard to examine three generations of a family whose destiny seems somehow tied up there in the stars.
So we encounter Sylvia on the night of the Moon landing, in awe of the possibilities it heralds; we meet Neil and Julie in the present day trying to conceive; and in 2055, Sylvia’s granddaughter is preparing to become the first person to walk on Mars. And as we see how past actions influence future possibilities, a more pressing journey of gender equality emerges as the main theme in this feminist sci-fi epic (with heart). What does the freedom to ‘have it all’ actually look like, has what we’re willing to sacrifice changed over the years, have we even progressed but at all?
The show’s most affecting moments come when the boundaries between times are at their thinnest, when life is happening in past and present at the same time. The adult Neil talking to his long-lost father, whilst his mum simultaneously spins tales to his childhood self about why he’s not in their lives; a stroke-ridden older Sylvia unable (or unwilling) to respond to visitors, instead reliving a saucy little tryst from her youth. Lisa Spirling directs with such elegance and fluidity, and a complete lack of fuss that you can’t help but buy into the rupturing of the space/time continuum.
The deceptive simplicity of Sarah Beaton’s design is crucial here, its curved walls the perfect blank canvas to shift easily from 60s hedonism to present day functional blandness to futuristic space bureaucracy. And they’re lit with enterprising texture by Ben Jacobs’ gorgeous lighting design with its endlessly fascinating washes of colour enriching the emotional hinterland of these characters, led by Rosie Wyatt’s superlative portrayal of the three ages of Sylvia, full of complex, compelling emotion no matter when she is. A most assured debut from Thompson then and as powerfully thought-provoking a piece of new writing as you’ll find in London at the moment.