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Spaceship '87 (Manchester)

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
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Nine-year old Layla Troon is having a bad day. Distraught after learning that her parents are to separate she is thrown into an adventure in which she is compelled to take-on the identity of her imaginary alter ego Space Captain Troon to save the universe . In 1987 the UK was rocked by hurricane winds. According to the latest production from En Masse Theatre this storm was not restricted to earth but also covered the rest of the planets and Michael Fish, as well as failing to forecast the storm, actually caused it with his weather trinity machine.  

Written by Oliver Birch, Spaceship’87 is aimed at an audience aged 7 years and older. It generally succeeds in holding their attention if not always keeping them entertained. It takes some time before they feel comfortable enough to laugh at the jokes. Keeping the school-aged audience in mind the script mixes the odd bit of factual information with the occasional mild swear word. It avoids the easy way of getting laughs by referencing popular culture (there are no mentions of the Tardis and only one of a Star Wars character) and instead creates its own universe with self-absorbed stars and uncaring rulers.

The fluorescent set, designed by Miriam Nabarro and Sally Leach,works well in representing both a child’s bedroom and the bridge of a spacecraft. Richard Owen and Harriet Mackie provide imaginative lighting that gives us some idea of the wonder of the universe .The whole show is helped enormously by the music, composed by Birch, which cheekily pinches tunes from songs that were popular in the period in which the play is set.

Director Amy Leach surprisingly allows each scene to go on that bit too long to the point that the audience become restless. She does, however, insert enough period pieces (brick-like mobile phones, the BBC test card) to make any adults in the audience feel a bit nostalgic.

This could go over the heads of the target audience who might not get the visual joke of the heroine being attacked by invaders that resemble the neon characters out of the ‘80s Space Invaders game. Leach also widens the scope of the piece by ensuring that the cast (Oliver Birch, Katie Cotterell, Hannah Emanuel and Christopher Kelham) portray the inhabitants of the universe in a way that reflects real-life characters.

Spaceship’87 is not wholly successful. Layla represents the average child and, as such, is a bit too dependent on her on-board computer and not enough on her own intelligence to satisfy as a heroine. But the play does offer an imaginative alternative to seasonal entertainment and certainly kept the young audience enraptured.

- Dave Cunningham


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