Monday 11 September 2023

MYRA IN SPACE: Theatre Review

WHAT: Myra In Space
WHEN: 7 - 17 September 2023
WHERE: Fortyfivedownstairs
WRITTEN BY: Bridgette Burton
DIRECTED BY: Alice Bishop
DESIGN BY: Silvia Shao
LIGHTING BY: Richard Vabre
SOUND BY: Nat Grant
PERFORMED BY: Nicholas Jaquinot, Annie Lumsden, Kelly Nash, Rama Nicholas, and Greg Parker

Kelly Nash and Greg Parker - photo by Jody Jane Stitt

The space race is on again thanks to a few outrageous gazillionaires and it has caused some of us to think back to our youths when space was a frontier and flying into it was a future full of options and adventures. Myra In Space, now playing at Fortyfivedownstairs, explores what that yearning was and now is for the people who lived it the first time around.

It is impossible for the current generation to ever truly understand the hope and belief space travel inspired us to embrace last century. The idea of breaking free from the limitations of this world, this life, and exploring that big blue/black expanse of nobody knew what would be found. A real and urgent commitment to the idea of finding aliens drove science and the imagination. Asimov, Herbert, and McCaffrey wrote endless books imagining life beyond earth and this was the generation taking the first steps. Those first steps on the moon were only the beginning of hope and possibility.

This sense of forward movement was embraced by feminists and when Valentina Tereshkova became the first woman to fly in space in 1963 the possibilities exploded in the minds of women everywhere. Barriers were being broken down in education and employment and whilst it is not true to say anything was possible, a great many things felt within our reach. They were...are...but it is all taking a lot longer than anyone back then could have ever imagined.

In 2023 we are being told homelessness for women over the age of 52 is rising at a rate exceeding any other demographic. How is it these women who grew up with so much hope and so many doors starting to edge open can be finding themselves so lost and alone and with nowhere to live? This is the question Bridgette Burton (writer) is asking in Myra In Space

Myra (Kelly Nash) and Bruce (Greg Parker) are a couple in the latter years of a working life. Bruce is a Supreme Court Judge and Myra is his wife. They have 2 children still finding their careers, but who are no longer living at home. Valli (Annie Lumsden) is a radio shock jock and Phillip (Nicholas Jaquinot) is a young lawyer, following in his dad's footsteps.

The story begins the evening Bruce is to accept an honorary doctorate for his work in the law. In his speech he acknowledges how he couldn't have done any of it without his wife, Myra, dealing with all the stuff at home. A speech we have been hearing from men for decades now, the confirmation of that old adage 'behind every good man is a good woman'. 

Looking on from afar is a strange woman in an orange flight suit. We learn that this is Valentina Tereshkova (Rama Nicholas), the first woman in space, and she seems to have a very special interest in Myra. Around family barbeques and in conversations between Myra and Valentina we learn that Myra did a lot more than tend the home and children for Bruce. Her ambitions were to do an engineering degree and follow Tereshkova into space. Instead she supported Bruce through his law degree and, after 3 miscarriages finally gave birth to their first child, Valli. It doesn't stop there, and over the course of an hour and a half we find out just who should have been awarded that degree.

Unsurprisingly we also learn that depression has dogged Myra and the family are forced to start seeing Myra as she starts moving further and further away from them, in training for a trip to Mars and coached by Tereshkova. Fictional billionaire Fred Chen has created a competition for people to go on a one way flight to Mars and Myra tells the family she has entered. Valli's radio co-host Bob (Jaquinot) makes a very telling point when he taunts her by saying her mother would rather go on a one way trip to a dead planet than stay with her family.

Whilst the scenes are written and constructed in a very realist style, Alice Bishop (director) and Silvia Shao have created a stunning surrealist landscape helping us connect to the inner life of Myra. Shiny black dance floor creates an abyss the family are falling into and space station exo-frames hover and loom overhead pressing the family down into the inescapable gravitational pull of that black hole. Nat Grant's sound keeps the energy and momentum of the family's struggles to see and understand in time to save Myra and save themselves. Richard Vabre's lighting keeps  the world contained despite the show being performed in the round.

One of the great delights of Myra In Space is Shao's costumes. Having given up her dreams to be an astronaught, Myra keeps them alive by playing with her children when they were little. She has an incredible collection of home made space suits which, as she and Tereshkova start training for Mars, start to be worn again. When you see the show you will be amazed at what can be done with plastic bowls, newspaper, and bulldog clips. It is a collection to rival any Paris fashion runway.

Myra In Space is beautiful, magical, and so very sad. It is a tale of now, and a history of yesterday. It answers a question our society has been asking for a few years now. It delves deeper into the difficulties women over 50 are facing in a depth and detail I haven't seen before. It looks at grief and love and hope and defeat. It speaks to a life lived. I life well-lived. A life missed. 

4.5 Stars

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