It’s fair to say that sci-fi rarely graces the stage. Confined to epic novels, blockbuster movies and cult TV series, bringing big ideas and other-worldly concepts to theatre is a long discussed challenge.
It’s fantastic then to see Theatre Royal Plymouth bring two fascinating cosmic productions to light in a matter of months. DC Moore’s ‘Another Place’ succeeded last November, a Theatre Royal Plymouth production, with a small cast that managed to portray space exploration convincingly on an intimate and stripped back stage. Clever uses of lighting and blackouts to represent time travel and actors floating around in slow motion to suggest zero-gravity proved that intelligent writing and the limitless imaginations of the audience can give the genre all the scope it needs to thrive here.
Curious Directive have similarly succeeded with ‘Pioneer’. Set in the year 2029, the story sees humans yearning to colonise Mars. The play juggles multiple story arcs. With the first human mission failing in 2025, a new set of scientists attempt the one-way mission with the help of a reclusive Indian billionaire. Meanwhile, Dutch botanist Imke is seen to already be stationed on the planet, awaiting the arrival of the new crew and stirring over the disappearance of her partner. Her sister holds a secret at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean and two Russian brothers are driving across Siberia in search of the birth of space travel.
The set, despite being more expansive than ‘Another Place’ and bearing a larger cast, still relies on the power of simplicity. An AI graces the stage, cars speed at 150mph through the Kazakhstani desert and characters navigate the wonders of the red planet and the depths of Earth’s oceans. The imaginative use of live video feeds create web cams that unite the interplanetary characters and allow the audience to see through the eyes of Jud, the handheld luminous robot. The jumps from Mars to Earth and from research facility to racing car are believable and a testament to the versatility of the stage design. Using only three white movable blocks and a collection of screen projections, Curious Directive have brought all the elements of a blockbuster thriller to the stage.
‘Pioneer’ gathers all these complicated scenarios and communicates them, for the most part, brilliantly. The detail is rushed at times and some of the interpersonal dramas that carry significant weight on the plot could have benefitted from some extra attention. Ultimately, the production is a wrap in eighty hasty minutes and by all means should have continued for a bit longer.
A thought-provoking and engaging experience, ‘Pioneer’ is the latest in a surge of intelligent sci-fi plays. Long may they continue.
An intelligent script and imaginative stage design that proves sci-fi can thrive on stage.