The Cosmonaut’s Last Message is a complex play. Its very nature is mysterious and fluctuating. The audience can be close to tears in one scene and then be laughing the next.
But more than that, it is a very clever play. The costumes, the accents, the set, are all designed carefully; the way the sofa folds out to be a bed, and the bed folds up to be a bench. I could tell that every inch had been well thought through and choreographed. Yet it was the staging that immersed me.
Take the first scene, for instance. The ordinary chitter chatter of a husband and wife about the television and central heating was cleverly contrasted with the cosmonauts having a discussion on a rocket ship. Then there was the juxtaposition of the daughter on stage who believes that her father is tens of millions of miles away, and yet he is just there, at the foot of the stage, waiting for her.
The cosmonauts are consistent throughout the majority of the play, waiting in the darkness for the focus to be on them – their mystery is the only element of consistency. The multitude of characters leaves the audience in an almost constant state of confusion about who the new characters are and what their role is, but to go back to the cosmonauts is to go back to what we knew, even though we really knew nothing about them at all.
People were constantly moving on and off stage, reminding us of the passage of time, whilst the cosmonauts stayed stagnant and still.
Yet, at times the mystery could put us off. Not knowing anything about what was going on could make us not care about anyone at times, especially since few characters could be empathized with easily. There was also little sense of jeopardy – so what if this is the cosmonaut’s last message? I didn’t know them anyway; why should I care?
However, there were also some outstanding performances – D’Arcy, known for her role in the BT hit Bunny, not only co-directed this play with Thomas Bailey, but portrayed an abandoned Scottish wife (complete with a flawless accent) with deep emotional intensity. Her quest to find her husband even though we knew he had been having an affair was touching but also pathetic. D’Arcy played the woman with focus and care; she was someone we could all relate to and someone we all pitied.
Sophie Ablett, portraying Nastasja, the Russian dancer played her character with complexity and effortlessness. Nastasja comes across as a together, confident young woman who can have any man she wants, yet Ablett shows that underneath she is just a girl, full of raw emotion, afraid of losing her father.
Despite its flaws, if you want to enjoy a clever, thought-provoking, intense piece of drama, then The Cosmonaut’s Last Message is for you.