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Cosmonaut

Summerhall, Edinburgh
Three stars

Once upon a cold war, the space race was everything to America and Russia. In a world dictated by firsts, it was America who made it to the moon and back. It was Russia, however, that set the bar, firing the first man into space as well as the collective imagination of a world who saw possibilities beyond the Soviet experiment. Beyond the heroics, there were other, less sung stories, as Francis Gallop makes clear in his new play that forms part of the theatre programme of Edinburgh International Science Festival, who co-commissioned it.

Here, Gallop zones in on the hidden genius of Sergei Korolev, the engineer who pretty much invented the Soviet space programme, albeit in a near samizdat fashion following his imprisonment in a gulag. Meanwhile, in an Italian high-rise, Lucia and her brother build a home-made space-tracking system, which records what they believe to be a generation of prototype cosmonauts, whose doomed missions have been seemingly airbrushed out of this world.

These over-lapping stories orbit around each other in Kate Nelson's production, as four actors dovetail between time-zones overseen by a large circular screen that beams down other-worldly images. Fact and fiction blur into each other in a similar fashion, as extended poetic monologues suggest aspirations beyond earthly reach. Things don't always gel in this respect, and the stage is at times far too busy with technicalities to fully focus. With Annabel Logan's Lucia and her brother the accidental hackers of their day and Rodney Matthew's Sergei the most grounded of figures, Gallop's meditation is nevertheless a still timely look at how political expediency still governs who gets to make history.

The Herald, April 6th 2017

ends

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