Writer and director, Joyce Branagh, follows the success of Sheepish at last year’s 24:7 Theatre festival with Peggy and The Spaceman, a family friendly production recommended for ages six and over. Set around the true events of 1961 when Yuri Gagarin visited Manchester, Peggy and the Spaceman truly is a fun and imaginative adventure for anyone, young or old.
From the moment we meet Peggy (Saira Choudhry), handing us an exercise book and welcoming us to her classroom, we are transported back to 1961 by Olivia Du Monceau's impressive and effective use of costumes, props and set. Schoolteacher, Mr Taylor, (Luke Walker) begins to teach us all about the first human ever to fly into space, Yuri Gagarin, on a blackboard attached to an adaptable box of tricks. This box becomes the centre of the action as it makes numerous transformations from a stove to a bus, a schoolroom to a cupboard and, at its most jaw-dropping, to Peggy’s spaceship.
The cast of three excelled at using their physicality to help us imagine each different situation, including a crush to see the Spaceman at the town hall. Eve Robertson’s portrayal of bully Mean Janine and Rover the toy dog was hilarious and convincing, and Saira Choudry’s innocent Peggy had us all rooting for our heroine. Luke Walker successfully took on numerous incarnations, the most remarkable being his heart-warming and majestic Russian Spaceman.
Given that the performance I attended had been transferred from its leaking home to a new space without lights, it was apparent that this was a well-rehearsed, slick, ensemble piece. With an extensive team of accomplished practitioners on board it’s not hard to see how this fringe production reached the high production values that it did, but that takes nothing away from its charm.