First Cosmonaut, Traverse Theatre, Review

Rating (out of 5)
Show details
Blue Raincoat Theatre Company
Jocelyn Clarke (writer), Niall Henry (director), Jamie Vartan (design), Barry McKinney (lighting design), Joe Hunt (sound and projection design), Avril Lahiff (props and costume), Paul McDonnell(assistant designer and set construction), Steve Rogers (photo)
John Carty (Yuri), Sandra O’Malley (Anna Gagarin, Tsiolkovsky, Ferry Man, Kamanin), Ciaran McCauley,(Alexei Gagarin, Martyanov, Arkbulatov, Vasilyev, Chief Designer) Frances Healy (Zoya Gagarin, Valya, Nurse Anna) and Bob Kelly (Valentin Gagarin,Nina, Titov, Uncle Pavel)
Running time

Blue Raincoat takes us on a wacky waltz to the stars!

In 1961, the Soviet Union was the first nation to successfully send a man into outer space. That man was Yuri Gagarin. Gagarin was born in a town that now bears his name in the Smolensk region of Russia. Blue Raincoat brings the Smolensk Drama Group to tell the heroic story of Yuri Gagarin from his humble beginnings to his tragic and ironic early death in a plane crash.

The cast dressed in trademark higgledy – piggledy style, is hanging about in a huddle on the stage eyeing up the assembling audience and muttering amongst themselves. The lights dim and they line up Brechtian style to be introduced by their leader, played by John Carty, who with a pretty authentic sounding Russian accent explains something of the piece and the multiple roles the cast will play. The stirring sounds of the balalaika and trumpet add the musical motif of the waltz to this moving tale.

Masters of their craft, the cast of Blue Raincoat meld the physical with the absurd in their consummate signature style. The piece is beautifully if comically choreographed thanks to their apposite training in mime and to Niall Henry’s fine direction. A low level red motif runs throughout along with a suitable sickle.

The juxtaposition of modern technology in the form of quite magical graphics and old film footage of the period shown on the big screen with the huge peasant’s wooden barrow, giant ladder and crates works brilliantly well. Gagarin’s early flying days is strangely believable as he soars with a wooden set of wings against a swooping cloudscape.

There is direct narration throughout with simple and subtle character changes, particularly from the wonderful Sandra O’Malley who shifts from military man to mother with her usual comic aplomb. The group of confused strutting officials is a study in discreet clowning. Though it strayed a bit at times, the pace of the play mostly maintained momentum and the comic character studies that are manifest across the stage more than compensate.

Blue Raincoat, along with the pen of Jocelyn Clarke, has created a glorious piece of theatre that is funny and yet respectful to the memory of a small man with big dreams who made his mark on world history by seeing mother earth ‘from a distance’ for the first time. A waltz worth dancing.

Blue Raincoat Theatre Company was founded in 1991 and is Ireland’s only full-time venue-based professional theatre ensemble. Their productions have an emphasis on modern European classics, new writing and new adaptations for stage. They have to date appeared to acclaim at the Traverse for five consecutive years. This Traverse performance is the first time the play has been seen since its original production in October 2013 in The Factory in Sligo.

Show times

Thur 5 – Sat 7 June (7.30pm)

£15.50 / £12.50 (£8 unemployed, disabled)