Andrew Thompson's In Event of Moone Disaster is a show brimming with life. Set over the course of 97 years, ranging from the tail end of the Swinging Sixties through to a sci-fi bonanza in 2055, we follow a grandmother and granddaughter, both named Sylvia Moone, as well as their family.
We first see the elder Moone as a young woman, fresh from a hazy (or fantasised) romantic tryst with an astronaut, longing for an escape to the stars in 1969. One unexpected pregnancy later and her dreams evaporate, replaced by a shackled life in a sleepy northern town. In 2017 we see Sylvia's son, Neil (named after a stellar celebrity) desperate to have a child, despite complications and his wife Julie's reluctance. And finally, there's the future Sylvia, Neil's daughter, about to embark on a mission to Mars with the first colonisers. Her role is to try and find water, or as Thompson puts it, 'the sign of life'. From there, timelines coalesce and life hurtles on.
Thompson's century-long epic cannot be faulted for its ambition. Director Lisa Spirling performs an admirable job juggling the various epochs, often intermingling different time periods using staging and Philippine Laureau's versatile projection. The show speeds along at a brisk pace, with flashes of ingenuity - a scene where the future Sylvia reads out the conditions for a contracted sexual experience is laughter-ridden, as is another about the ways in which brands have commercialised space travel. Would a mission to Mars be anything more than sponsored content?
But the show suffers from a lack of clarity, and it is hard to work out where Thompson really wants to go at times. With one passage that feels far more like a Black Mirror-esque depiction of the future, both the 1969 Moone and the present-day lives of Neil and Julie are overshadowed. Julie in particular, a woman with a partner desperate for a child though clearly less than sure herself, never really gets the necessary stage time to have a developed part, despite a fine performance from Alicya Eyo. With so many shows (Yerma, Lungs, The Secret Life of Sugar Water to name a few) dealing with fertility, the lack of attention here was a shame.
Rosie Wyatt is assured in what is the unenviable task of having to sustain the character of Sylvia across the century, faring particularly well in creating a rich and complex relationship with her on-off romantic interest Dennis (a wide-eyed Thomas Pickles). The present-day moments, unfortunately, felt more forced, and with his petulant behaviour, one wondered why Eyo's Sophie and Will Norris's Neil were still a couple.
Lisa Spirling's first directorial effort since taking on the role of artistic director at Theatre503, Moone Disaster was an exciting mission statement for shows to come and Spirling's desire for the venue. As much as this is a play about fertility and giving of life, it's also one about the desire to escape, to see the stars and break from the remits of everyday life. A love-letter to dreamers everywhere, and whenever.
In Event of Moone Disaster runs at Theatre503 until 28 October.