EISF: Cosmonaut, Summerhall, Review

Rating (out of 5)
Show details
Francis Gallop
Francis Gallop (Writer), Kate Nelson (Director), Ali Maclaurin (Designer),
RJ McConnell (Composer), Tim Reid (Video Designer), Elle Taylor (Lighting Designer)
Gowan Calder, Annabel Logan, Rodney Matthew, David Rankine
Running time

For this year’s Edinburgh International Science Festival (EISF), writer Francis Gallop has unearthed previously unknown stories around the post war space race for the Festival’s opening theatre show, Cosmonaut.

A chance gift of old magazines led him to finding the story of a Torinese brother and sister who claimed to have recorded pre- Gagarin cosmonauts via their home-made tracking device. Gallop weaves this incredible tale with another secret story involving Soviet scientist Sergei Korolev (Rodney Matthew) who subverted a nuclear missile project to a space programme.

A glimmering globe like a giant tarnished button is suspended in the corner of the stage and becomes the AV screen showing images to augment the narrative and where some smart syncing is done by Annabel Logan and David Rankine. Two castored tables and a couple of stools that serve to ascend the tables are the simple, beautifully lit set coupled with discreet yet atmospheric sounds.

The wealth of information gathered by Gallop is delivered in narrative form in turn by the four actors who appear mostly in pairs, in an imagined Soviet Russia and Italy, but there is a lack of real interaction between actors because of the style of the delivery that makes for a sense of disconnection and of it being a kind of visual radio play. A mass of information is delivered at times in a conflated way across the piece creating confusion, ignoring the golden rule of showing more and telling less. Some paring back on what feels like a bombardment of facts would lift this play that’s so full of intriguing revelations to another level rather than what can feel like a series of well delivered if disconnected speeches.

Gallop’s ambitious work is clearly a labour of love but it feels esoteric. A more poetic style would have lifted this interesting story to the higher level it deserves. Hints of its potential to be a tighter more focussed piece was in the final scene with the repetition in heightened prose of an earlier speech delivered so well by Gowan Calder that rounds the play off and strikes a higher emotional note.

The folly and false ambition of looking to the sky while people on the ground are living in squalor haunts this text.

Monday 3 — Wednesday 5 April at 8pm. Ages recommend 14+