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First Cosmonaut

Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh
Four stars
The peasants huddling round a hand-cart and wooden ladder at the start
of Blue Raincoat Theatre Company's biographical study of pioneering
Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagaran may not be revolting, but the
dressed-down quintet are clearly keeping a self-consciously stern eye
on the audience as they gradually troop in to a suitably heroic
soundtrack. As it turns out, director of the Sligo-based company Niall
Henry has them frame Jocelyn Clarke's forensically researched script as
an arch  facsimile of a rural Soviet theatre group paying homage to
their country-man.

As the three men and two women strike a series of Meyerhold-inspired
poses, this develops into a gloriously deadpan device which they
sustain throughout the play's full seventy-five minutes. Following an
opening monologue which appears to give a very Russian nod to David
Bowie's Space Oddity, the ensemble's suitably collective retelling
charts Gagarin's rise from a little boy with stars in his eyes to
iconic status as the first man in space. Only long after he's become an
untouchable tool of the Stalinist state does he prematurely fall to
earth in, of all things. a plane crash.

In Henry's fluidly playful affair, the hand-cart somehow morphs into a
space-ship as Yuri's family and Comrade Kruschev look on. All this is
back-dropped by Joe Hunt's ingenious projections, a fast-zooming
collage of dazzling archive footage that orbits a time when the
exploration of mysterious other worlds mattered and planet Earth was
revealed as a place most definitely not at the centre of the universe.
With infinite invention, Blue Raincoat have taken such notions and
transformed them into a beguiling piece of theatre for space cadet
survivors to gaze on.

The Herald, June 9th 2014


ends

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