Edinburgh Fringe 2012
In a series of three twenty-minute plays, Dancing Brick take a low-tech approach to space travel and the story – initially – of Captain Ko and the Planet of Rice. A gentle homage to classic TV sci-fi leads into a demanding and intensive domestic mime before a Soviet cosmonaut’s isolation brings together these three stories of loneliness, collapsing memories and the meaning of time.
The first play is a loving homage to the age of classic TV sci-fi, ie. late sixties and early seventies. The sound effects are lifted straight out of the Star Trek memory banks, while the costumes (pastel blue space suits, no gloves) would be at home in an episode of Captain Scarlet. Captain Ko’s exploratory mission is set up like those sixties TV shows, with an opening sequence that harks back to an age when lunar landings were surely only months away and the rest of the solar system seemed within humanity’s grasp. It’s full of a joyous optimism and confidence in humanity’s prowess that seems naïve in hindsight.
The Planet of Rice causes Ko some problems (malfunctioning equipment, difficulty in navigating) and she finds her self repeating moments, sequences, phrases – over centuries. She loses all celestial reference points, then loses track of her location and eventually time itself ceases to have any meaning.
To prepare for the second play, Ko’s Lieutenant sweeps away the detritus of the Planet of Rice (including bits of their spacesuits) like someone clearing away subconscious dream-clutter at dawn – and Ko transforms into an elderly woman, pottering about her kitchen. The spacesuit under the cardigan reminds us of that generation that grew up with an eye on the stars and the stories TV told them about what was up there. This grandma could well be the girl who, as a child, dreamt of being Captain Ko, exploring the Planet of Rice, but now she’s here, in her kitchen, on Earth, alone.
The second play features the elderly Ko in a kitchen which is entirely mimed to a recorded soundtrack of sliding drawers, opening and closing cupboards and clinking plates, cups, saucers, etc. It’s very domestic, and it’s far from the dreams of those who watched Neil Armstrong’s giant leap for mankind. Watch closely, and you’ll see her repeat the same set of processes, without actually getting anywhere. She moves plates and cutlery around, as if preparing for a (solitary) meal, but company isn’t the only thing she’s lacking and she prepares it twice over. She gets caught in a loop of recurring events, and gradually time loses all sense of meaning.
Theatrically, this is brave and shows how highly Dancing Brick think of their audience. It’s twenty minutes of tediously miming out a domestic setting – and there’s a lot of kitchen for the audience to hold in their heads. Following it all asks a genuine mental effort, sticking with it and making sense of this requires an even greater effort. It was too much effort for the ten-year olds, who became restless, and many of the adults struggled.
The third play is much more down-to-Earth (starring a Soviet Cosmonaut on the Mir Space Station). His regular updates and chats with Mission Control are charmingly filmed, while the rapport with his Mission Control contact is sweet, and serves to remind him of the planet below. Unfortunately for him, he’s up there when the Soviet Union collapses and rather than recall their man, the Russians seem to forget about him – hence his longer-than-planned term in orbit. Without his regular updates from Mission Control and the established routine, all reference points gone, time ceases to have meaning for the Cosmonaut, and he forgets how to engage with anything external. He ends up just like Ko on the Planet of Rice and the elderly Ko in her kitchen.
That’s what binds the triptych together – the loss of reference points and of the relevance of time. Once that’s gone, people disconnect and – outside of space travel – dementia sets in. Within each of these plays, memories and time fold inwards and collapse, as dreams and hopes fade away and cease to matter. It’s a demanding piece of work, but a rewarding one if you stick with it. The performance makes it feel like this is one play, not three, and that confuses an audience looking for a unifying plot line.