Pioneer, Zoo Southside, Review

Rating (out of 5)
Show info
Curious Directive / Norfolk and Norwich Festival / Watford Palace Theatre.
Jack Lowe (director / producer), Cecilia Carey (designer), Joshua Pharo (lighting designer), Jo Walker (sound director),Jasmine Robinson (video), Adam Alston (composer), Harriet Usher (producer).
Emily Lloyd-Saini (Shari Dasgupta), Gabrielle Lombardo (Rudi Van der Waal), Flora Denman (Imke Van der Berg), (James Hardy (Alyosha Korolyov), Stephen Bilsland (Ivan Korolyov), Caitlin Ince (Maartje Van der Berg).
Running time

"The Cosmists were a peculiarly Russian group: they were all very Russian, and they were also, frankly, peculiar.”--Michael D. Gordin, Professor of History, Princeton University

In the garden of a space habitat Dutch astronaut, Imke is struggling with a fragile process for cultivating plants and also with her dreams of Earth. Her partner, Oskar should back from a routine mission to clean off solar panels but is overdue.

Back on earth preparations are being made for the launch of a new manned Mars mission, the first having gone missing without trace some years previously. All eyes are on Flight Director, Shari as she makes a press statement on behalf of Mrs Singh, the Branson-esque billionaire architect of space hotels and backer of the international project. The launch will be six months ahead of schedule but Shari needs to know that having a strong emotional connection between the crew is the way to go. For the genesis of the project she needs Imke and Oskar to pull through as Adam and Eve.

Acting as narrators are brothers Alyosha and Ivan Korolyov who are on a mission of their own, a dude “Louise and Thelma” 2000 mile Siberian road trip in their Lada Sputnik (dubbed Shitty-Shitty-Bang-Bang), to trace the role of their great grandfather in the birth of space travel.

As the new mission progresses Shari pulls Imke’s sister Maartje from her own mission at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean to keep things on track and her within the select group of people who know one small detail of the original expedition.

The production is vast in its scale, ambitions and production values, utilising elegant flexible blocks of scenery that effectively transform into any setting and the backdrop for video projections and live camera feeds. The performances are strong throughout and manage to realise the difficult challenge of making science-fiction on stage believable. While the genre often takes a basic plot and simply dresses it up with technology and special effects this has real depth and rigour.

Although the earth-bound road trip may seem like a detour, it’s the launch pad for many of the philosophical ideas that are central to the piece. Alyosha is as obsessed by the universe as were the forefathers of space travel, Fydorov and Tsiolovsky, real life futurists and cosmists who had radical ideas on space and ocean colonisation and saw immortality as the common cause uniting the evolving human race. The plot explores inner space and much as outer space in examining what drives us to take leaps into the unknown. In engaging with the heavens are we playing God?

There is probably too much in the multi-layered plot to allow it all to be communicated clearly but the “thriller” line is enough to carry it through to a stirring conclusion. Its pioneering spirit alone reaches for the stars - all five of them.

Show Times: 1 - 25 August 2014 at 1pm.

Ticket Prices: £12 (£10).

Suitability: 12+