There is continuing on-off talk of space missions to Mars, and a rudimentary internet search brings up the 2030s as the earliest reasonably viable date for some sort of manned mission, and even the intention there is have astronauts go as far as Mars, orbit Mars, and come straight back to Earth. Here, in Voyager, Carrie (Grace Chapman) expresses interest in some sort of absurd competition, spearheaded by more than one space agency, to ask a schoolteacher to join their manned Mars mission.
Being a general sceptic of what is still science fiction, at least in the form of anyone at all other than the professional astronauts going anywhere near Mars, I found the whole ‘journey’ that Carrie goes through, round after round, call-back after call-back, by the trip organisers, almost as arduous to watch as it would have been to go through. I had no qualms with the rigorous testing procedures – in my suspension of disbelief I was reassured by them – but I felt like I was watching one of those Saturday night television series produced by Simon Cowell, watching someone progress through a contest, with the rest of their ordinary life being depicted as a ‘backstory’. All the while the ultimate question remains: is she good enough – strong enough, physically and psychologically – to go to Mars?
The show, at least, answers that question eventually, bringing things to a suitable conclusion. There are some other, expressly more realistic, themes delved into in this short play, and I did initially think the Mars trip and all it contained rather detracted from the rest of the piece. With the benefit of hindsight, the Mars plotline seemed to assert a lighter side to the play, relative to what I suppose could be called the ‘Earth plotline’ of Carrie’s life and betrothal to Ben (a very engaging Julian Spooner).
I hasten to add that I happened to react rather differently to most of the audience at the performance I attended. I found the Mars mission dubious, at best, and struggled to keep a straight face during the astronaut selection processes. But whilst laughter was rippling through the stalls as Carrie stumbles over her words whilst trying to record a video message, I could only feel concern for the young lady, as she struggled with so many of life’s problems hitting her at once.
There are some excellent projections that firm up the production. The choreography, although imperfect, was generally strong, particularly in a depiction of the hustle and bustle of the secondary school where Carrie works. At the real heart of the Earth plotline is a love story, and part of me thinks this show would work better as a musical, as emotions do run high at various points, for good or for ill.
There is so much that instead remains unsaid, and I wonder if a soliloquy or two could otherwise be put in to allow the audience to gauge better the frustrations and anxieties felt by Carrie and Ben as the sodding Mars trip threatens to place them worlds apart.
As it is, though, there’s still much to take away from this play. I must not let my personal distaste for sci-fi take anything away from what is certainly an imaginative piece of theatre. It ends as poignantly as it began, and I was pleasantly surprised by the play’s coherency (the Mars trip, the elephant in the room, aside). Is this a play before its time? Maybe, but it’s also quite cute and charming – and, for the most part, down to earth (sorry).
Review by Chris Omaweng
In 1977 Voyager spacecraft is launched on its journey of discovery. It carries with it a Golden record, a brief history of our time amongst the stars.
Just minutes after this momentous launch, a baby girl is born on Earth. Carrie. Four decades later Voyager is 12 billion miles from home and the furthest anything man made has ever travelled. Carrie is a teacher and soon to be married, but as Voyager leaves our solar system a strong desire to leave earth is triggered. She is faced with the prospect of leaving everythign behind she has ever knwon, to become a pioneer, on a one way mission to mars.
Using their stunning blend of multimedia, inventive staging and physicality, Voyager questions what our next giant leap should be and whether we should take it.
New Diorama Theatre
15-16 Triton St, London NW1 3BF
Tues 24 May – Sat 11 June @ 19:30