Edinburgh Fringe 2014
One mutt rises above the rest and, in a daring move to leave family and comfort behind, our hero Laika discovers that in achieving something she may end up losing everything. Commissioned for and presented by Double Edge Drama, ‘Laika’ is infused with infectious enthusiasm and high-octane presentation
Based on the true story of the Moscow stray blasted on a one-way trip into orbit, ‘Laika: A Space Dogyssey’ is a punchy, dynamic musical about history, family and the nefarious utilitarianism of Soviet Russia’s inner circle.
The Soviet Russian empire is desperate to promote itself internationally while bolstering its own image at home. Sound familiar? It’s not a story ripped from today’s headlines, but from those of 1957 when Russia and the USA were at the height of their race to conquer outer space. A family of scrappy Moscovian mutts are enlisted by the Soviet space program who are keen to create an every-dog mascot to inspire the masses. One mutt rises above the rest and, in a daring move to leave family and comfort behind, our hero Laika discovers that in achieving something she may end up losing everything.
Commissioned for and presented by Double Edge Drama (Eton’s drama club), ‘Laika’ is in the competent hands of some extraordinary, young performers. From rags to riches to the outer reaches of space, this cast of six and their jaunty band infuse this show with infectious enthusiasm and high-octane presentation. It’s the kind of show where everyone’s having fun – audiences are treated to moan-worthy, clever lyrics (from lyricist team Joe Hancock and Joe Von Malachowski) that are delivered with comic confidence more often found from performers three times the age of this cast.
Director Joe Hancock (currently director-in-residence at Eton) and writer Joe Von Malachowski can be commended for creating a work that playfully engages with themes of the authoritarian spectre, while building sympathy around the character of Laika the, well, underdog. Laika’s is the predictable journey of every dreamy-eyed protagonist, but the show distinguishes itself with clever vaudevillian turns as actors crash through the fourth wall (notably to make reference to the improbability of a well-oiled plot structure). This is in the best tradition of jab-and-wink comedy, and tonal parities to the American cartoon ‘Rocky and Bullwinkle’ and British pantomime tradition cannot be ignored. We’re even treated to a delightfully slippery ‘Russian’ accent from resident Soviet baddy Oleg (Fredi Beard Porcel).
Josh Morris does a fine job as our title character (despite his own observation that he’s neither dog nor female) and this compliment extends across the cast. This efficient production requires actors to take the helm of at least two characters – often one dog and one human. Actors don ushanka (those floppy-eared wintry hats) to denote when they’re canines and choreography by Rebecca Steel successfully transforms the actors’ physicality with attention to animal-like movement punctuated by athletic and daring movement.
This is not the Gilded Ballon’s largest room and these are not seasoned performers, but ‘Laika’ delivers serious bang for your ruble.