Review: In Event Of Moone Disaster at Theatre503

We all leave home eventually, one way or another. We might move out of our parents’ house to an adjacent road in the same town, or to another city. If we’re feeling particularly adventurous maybe we’ll move to a different country for a year or two. Or, if it’s 2055, we might just sack it all off and go to Mars.

2016 Theatre503 Playwriting Award winner Andrew Thompson interweaves the stories of three generations of Moones, each of them dissatisfied with the ordinariness of their lives. In 1969, Sylvia Moone falls pregnant, either by an astronaut or by adorably hapless homebody Dennis. We meet her son, Neil, in 2017, who mythologises his absent father, having been told by Sylvia that he was a rocket man. In 2055, Neil’s daughter, another Sylvia, prepares for her mission to be the first person to land on Mars. Talk about flying the nest. 

Each time-frame is interlocked by inherited wanderlust. Deft direction from Lisa Spirling weaves the narratives into one another, representing shifts in time (and space) through swift costume changes and subtle adjustments to the lighting. The most moving moments in the play come when the stories collide. Every now and again characters from different times coexist on stage, and it becomes clear what time (and, again, space) has taken as the years have rolled on.

It’s a complex script performed by an admirable cast. There are no weak links here, but Rosie Wyatt as the two Sylvias, and Thomas Pickles as Dennis, really stand out - both performances are by turn snort-inducingly funny, and laden with pathos. They embrace their physicalities, transforming glowing youth into shrunken old-age with apparent ease. Wyatt threads a spiky self-assuredness through each representation of the two Sylvias, creating a sense of genealogical predetermination in the younger, and I sobbed a bit at Pickles’ scene as an old man struggling to bear the weight of a life of quiet disappointment.

The shifts between time-frames are made even clearer - and more flexible - by Sarah Beaton’s two-tier stage design. A ramp curves around the stage creating a kind of half-moon which both recalls the set design of late 60s music videos, and imagines the smooth, clean edges of the future. Strangely it’s only in the 2017 narrative that the setting doesn’t totally gel, but in many ways the uneasy fit seems appropriate. We remember the 60s and imagine the future by condensing them into stereotypes. We don’t yet know how to encapsulate 2017, and I guess we probably won’t for a while. Neil and his wife, Julie, are in the inbetween stage, and so are we. 

For a play about interplanetary space travel, In Event Of Moone Disaster spends a lot of time not just on Earth, but zoomed right into the conventional, pedestrian struggles of a single family fighting against the conventional and the pedestrian. I laughed a lot, a cried a little, and although I absolutely hope I don’t ever go to Mars, I do relate to the idea of wanting to see what’s out there. I think most of us probably do. 

Find Anna on Twitter at @annaerichmond

Photo credit: Jack Sain