Bright Star tells the story of Beatrice Tinsley, a fascinating female cosmologist whose work helped to determine the size and age of the universe. Beatrice married fellow physics student Brian Tinsley early on in her life. After moving to Texas, she struggled to find work, ending up at Yale, dying a few years later from malignant melanoma. Her story is intriguing and important, so it's a pity Bright Star doesn't tell it too well.
It's more of narrative than play, and rather than give the audience a rounded understanding of Beatrice, playwright Stuart Hoar instead presents a portrait of a selfish and impatient woman, unable to compromise or behave appropriately. She is consistently rude and arrogant – although most humans do possess these qualities, it feels like a disservice to Tinsley to characterise her so.
Played by co-producer Michelle Witton, Tinsley insults everyone from her clergyman father (an excellent Brendan Gregory) to her husband's boss (an enjoyable Jeff Mash) over their beliefs and choices, making it overly easy to see why the latter becomes so antagonistic towards her desires for fellowship at the university. Tinsley's cause is not helped by her casting – Witton lacks passion and conviction, while her body language and posture do her no credit, distracting more and more as she repetitively clutches at the sleeves of her 70's jumper, or stands with her arms crossed as a default position.
A strong Matt Wilson as husband Brian redeems matters somewhat, as does Kate Harper's Andrea, bringing welcome comic relief. There's excellent lighting and sound from Derek Carlyle and Amanda Kerstein, setting the mood nicely for scenes where Tinsley addresses the audience on scientific matters. These were put across extremely clearly, enabling a layperson to understand the main themes.
If Hoar is trying to laud Tinsley here, he has failed miserably. Make this wonderful woman a more rounded character – and do the same for everyone else - and this play might actually start to shine.