Space journeys, even fictional ones, are fraught with risk. Curious Directive’s new production Pioneer, which chronicles the first manned missions to Mars, is an ambitious and challenging piece.
Premiering at the Norfolk and Norwich Festival the opening night started late due to technical problems and ran 30 minutes over time.
The narrative had its kinks too: a Russian student thread is overwrought and the interweaving stories are tough for the audience to follow, combined as they are with intrusive set movements and hand-held video work.
But for all that at its crucial moment all those disparate pieces snap into an epiphany, finding their orbits and forming a coherent whole. It does work. The mission succeeds, with a poignant and emotional conclusion.
At the centre is astronaut Imke, played with extreme gentleness and calm by Flora Denman and the increasingly frantic flight director Sanjay (Naveed Khan). His icily ambitious assistant Kayo (Susan Hingley) bites at his heels, as the world watches the Mars mission unfold. David Burnett and Robert Heaps take on five characters each, Caitlin Ince three; they meet that challenge but the condensed casting can be confusing to watch.
Cecilia Carey’s design is deceptively basic: almost everything is on wheels, with three portholes guided around the stage by the actors to become anything from bunks to lifts. It’s a conceit an audience can quickly settle into.
Director Jack Lowe has a strong underlying piece that is sure to be refined as the run continues; proof that we never get anywhere good without taking a few risks.