The Mission

Sat 6th – Mon 29th August 2016

reviews

Anna Livesey

at 10:04 on 19th Aug 2016

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As a big physical theatre fan, I was intrigued to watch ‘The Mission’, a dynamic staging of one woman’s journey to space, and a piece devised by a collection of BA Physical Theatre graduates. It should have been right up my street. Certainly, the show’s physical elements don't fail to deliver, but it is shame they are paired with such mediocre writing and acting.

It becomes obvious very quickly that movement is the strong point of the team behind ‘The Mission’. One cannot help but be impressed by the range and skill of choreography: each of the physical sequences is executed to perfection, displaying an imaginative choice of moves and lifts. There is no weak link in the ensemble and no fumbles in the show: every member of the cast knows where to be and when, and the whole thing comes off feeling like a tightly-oiled and well-rehearsed machine.

These sequences are complimented by a lovely set of stage props. Perhaps a little clichéd in a production set 44 years in the future, the homemade iPads that each actor is armed with are, nevertheless, a nice touch. The handheld lights, which are likewise used as searchlights, an exercise machine, and to light some beautiful paper planets, are a stroke of genius. The aesthetic of ‘The Mission’ is perhaps its greatest asset: just like its choregraphy, the show overall is clean, sharp, and stylish to observe.

In the end though, it is fair to say that characterisation and plot fall a long way secondary to this impressive visual spectacle. I find heroine Jenny one-dimensional: as she herself fiercely affirms, she is simply a “nice, normal person”, and certainly there is no more complexity to be found in Stella Backman’s portrayal. Her boyfriend Tom, played by Christopher Yarnell, is no stronger, and one struggles to note any chemistry between the two. His reaction to the news of the space mission is overhammed, while her nonchalance seems implausible.

It hardly helps that the devised script which filters through these actors is hackneyed and basic. There is no emotional depth to this narrative, no suspense either, and a shocking twist shoved towards the end fails to make any impression. Clearly, this is a plot chosen for its dynamic possibilities, not for the human story it contains.

For me, the show is exemplified in one moment. Backman sits centre stage and, for the first time, admits some sign of emotion. She succumbs to grief and begins to cry. But yet again, Jenny’s story takes a backseat, and she is promptly robbed of her limelight by yet another stage prop, an astronaut puppet swept on by the ensemble. Moments like this permeate the piece: over and over again, the narrative of 'The Mission' is sacrificed to its very slick and very sharp visuals.

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Serena Basra

at 10:24 on 19th Aug 2016

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‘The Mission’ is a show which tracks the development of Jenny, an individual described as a 'part-time pint puller’ who becomes an ‘interplanetary hero’. This is a show which advertises itself as unafraid to tackle big questions: flyers cry out ‘does space hold the answer when all is lost?’ However, despite such promising subject matter, the nonsensical narrative is uninspiring and poorly thought-out.

The acting within this piece is poorly executed and overdone, causing the characters to feel farcical and one-dimensional at best. At times, the show appears to slip into a sort of pantomime. The strained accent adopted by Martin Chime is grating, and detracts from the interesting concept that his evil character is selling the idea of space exploration to society in the manner of a PR company. In addition to this, Stella Backman’s leading performance lacks nuance. Despite playing the everywoman, a character we can all allegedly relate to, she proves difficult to sympathise with. The script offers us little character development in regard to Jenny, as she appears painstakingly indifferent to all those she leaves behind. Her belief in the mission is justified with vague and overblown declarations regarding living amongst the planets and the stars. Consequently, it is a true credit to Christopher Yarnell, who plays Sarah’s boyfriend, that he is able to provide some genuinely moving moments in conversations marking the breakdown of their relationship.

The ensemble are undoubtedly at their strongest in moments of purely physical theatre. They work best without props - the puppeteer spaceman feels childish and an overbearing nod towards the fact that yes, they are conducting training for space. Jordan Turner and Lucy Bishop move seamlessly in their moments of zero gravity; their actions are polished and truly mesmerising to watch. Unfortunately, moments such as these appear few and far between, and the pair’s strong physical dynamic should be utilised to a much greater extent when shifting between scenes. With an array of hectic montages, the show often adopts a disjointed and clumsy feel. At one point Lucy Bishop talks directly over the close of one of Stella’s monologues, perhaps in an attempt to illustrate the hectic nature of the training Jenny is being put through, yet it simply causes the play to feel rushed.

The cast of this production are clearly enthusiastic, and possess promising talents in physical acting. However this piece is perhaps one small step (rather than a giant leap) forward for The Outbound Project’s theatrical future.

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