Review – Forever Looking Up, Illicit Theatre, University of Northampton Flash Festival, Castle Hill United Reform Church, Northampton, 17th May 2016

Forever Looking UpIf you thought the Mars One Project was a new way of calorie-controlling your chocolate intake, think again. It’s genuine – a project to establish a community of astronauts living on Mars. Crew One are scheduled to depart this earth in 2026, so if you want to volunteer, get your application form in now. Once you’re there though, there’s no way back, so the selection procedure for the best people is rightly arduous. Can you imagine what it would be like to go up to Mars in a rocket and know you will never come back?

That is the situation facing the characters in Illicit Theatre’s Forever Looking Up. They are the first group to head for Mars and have to come to terms with both the excitement of the mission and the tedium of being stuck in a rocket with people who you might not necessarily choose to spend the rest of eternity with. Whilst the Mars One project uniquely sets the scene, the issues facing our five heroes are largely the same that they might encounter in most closed communities. Apart from airlessness of course. And no gravity.

TrailerI loved the opening with its introductory video, allowing us to meet the five astronauts separately as they were interviewed for the camera. In just a few minutes you gained subtle insights into their characters that prepared you for their real life presentation on the stage shortly afterwards. I would say this particular footage was the finest use of video in any of these Flash Festival productions due to its originality and relevance. The next sequence in the show was almost contemporary dance in its format – with movements that suggested need and support, the confinement of individual thought and activity into enforced togetherness, and the emotional strains that the closed community would suffer because of their restrictions. I thought it was very well performed and I would have been happy to see more of it!

However, that would mean eating away at the time for the “scripted play” element of the piece, which would have been a shame. Once the astronauts’ responsibilities, characteristics and the basic plot have been established, it concentrates on two relationships between two people, and their repercussions on the wider group. Firstly: the blossoming love between Lily and Kaseem, which is against all the rules. The others snitching on them, telling the bosses that they’ve been kissing, felt like some kind of underhand sneak behaviour at school. I thought that was very sharply done. Second: the friendship between Zoe and Jessica, which builds well with Jessica showing pastoral care for Zoe’s troubled past – did she kill her mother? I think she may have. But Zoe misinterprets Jessica’s friendship for something more, and when Jessica reacts, horrified, at Zoe’s misplaced gaydar, the concord of the group is lost forever. Harvey’s solution to the Zoe/Jessica issue is final – although I understand in subsequent performances it might not be quite so clear cut!

Illicit TheatreIt’s a very engrossing and gripping observation of a closed community imploding. I really liked the oppressive sense of a Big Brother somewhere out there, watching their every move, sounding his alarm whenever they went off piste. Technically, on the performance I saw, the backing music was too loud for the voices to carry sufficiently during those sotto voce private conversations. Nevertheless, I really enjoyed all the performances. The stage loves Sharni Tapako-Brown and she stood out like a beacon of brilliance in all her scenes. Even just in the diary scenes, when she’s not interacting with anyone else, she made the words come alive. And her conflicts of emotion with Zoe were stunning. Talking of whom, Sophie Guiver invested Zoe with a really strong personality, enigmatic with her past and the reasons why she left earth; and calculatingly vindictive after the misunderstanding with Jessica. She has a great stage presence and very confident delivery and I really enjoyed her performance.

As the senior chap on board, Charlie Clee’s Harvey quickly reveals himself to be much more fragile a person than you would like to be in charge. Awkward, nervous, and lacking in the personal charisma to be the authoritative figure that you would need to be at the helm, I thought Mr Clee did a great job in conveying those personal limitations and failures in what must have been a very hard role to grasp. Normally he doth bestride the stage like a Colossus, so it was riveting to see him portray so different a character. Vandreas Marc and Yolanda Lake made Kaseem and Lily into a very believable couple who start to come together and then start to fall apart. They were also particularly graceful in the movement sequences.

Forever Looking Up castAn absolutely fascinating piece that takes common themes of everyday life and projects them up into space, providing the added stress that the Mars One mission would definitely place on relationships. Intriguing and thought-provoking, and beautifully acted throughout. Congratulations to all concerned!

P. S. My spelling and grammar nerves were jagged by the time I’d read some of the company’s promotional material. I’ve honestly never seen so many mistakes on the printed page! I wouldn’t mention it but it’s a real bugbear of mine. Next time guys, get a good proof-reader. I don’t mind doing it for you!