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The Astronaut's Chair (Plymouth)

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
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A beautifully written and sensitively executed docudrama tells the story of the doomed Mercury 13 project and the woman who both championed and scuppered it.

More than loosely based on pioneer woman aviator Jacqui Cochran - who remarkably taught herself to fly, swept the board of world air records set by men and created a women’s air corps during World War II – Rona Munro’s The Astronaut’s Chair is fascinating.

Award-winning writer Munro (Iron, Bold Girls, Long Time Dead) brings this little-known story to life with a clever combination of multimedia, flashbacks and dialogue.

Ingrid Lacey (Drop the Dead Donkey, Northanger Abbey) is intense and convincing as the charismatic, egocentric, Press-savvy Renee, flirty and passionate about women flying – provided she is pivotal in that.

Tom Hodgkins (Hanna, Sharpe’s Revenge) is staid Steve, consultant to the NASA programme, who is charmed by the dynamic aviator and forefront in the space programme while Jack Sandle (Merlin’s Kelda, Sweetness Follows) plays Jack, Kennedy and the Senator.

Eleanor Wyld (Ally in Misfits) is sweet Jo, based on the indomitable record-breaker and would-be astronaut Jerrie Cobb, whose innocent enthusiasm is the perfect foil for glam pilot Renee while Amanda Ryan (Shameless, Elizabeth and Closer) brings an interesting voice of reason and truth as Larissa (and others).

Former Bush Theatre Artistic Director now Artistic Director at Plymouth’s Theatre Royal, Simon Stokes breathes pace and peace appositely into this entertaining history lesson although the characters broke no sympathy or empathy but perhaps that is intentional.

Bob Bailey’s simple set evokes wide open spaces and is acceptable as the space research station, hospital and all points between.

A gentle, informative evening.


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