Cockpit Theatre, London – until 17 August 2017
Guest reviewer: Oliver Wake
Pluto’s premise is ingenious. It dramatises the planet Pluto’s reaction to learning that he has been re-categorised – demoted, effectively – from planet to dwarf planet. Pluto throws a party to celebrate incoming news from NASA. Nobody comes, bar his moon/best friend Charon and, later, a stripper she has ordered. Unfortunately, the news proves to be devastating and Pluto falls into despondency despite the best efforts of Charon and the stripper to cheer him up.
Moonchild Theatre Company’s production comes to the Cockpit as part of the Camden Fringe festival, after previously being seen at Baron’s Court Theatre in April. This version of the play has been streamlined a little since earlier in the year, losing sequences depicting two additional characters (NASA scientists). I didn’t see the original version but whilst the Earth perspective may have added variety it doesn’t feel like there is anything obviously missing here, and the narrow focus on Pluto gives a welcome concentration to the play.
Callum O’Brien’ script has some witty and well-observed dialogue, plus a comedy dance routine, which is always guaranteed to raise a smile. Whilst Liam Joseph is good as the brooding, moody Pluto, it’s actually Charlotte Price as Charon who impresses most. With Pluto moping for most of the play, it falls on Price’s irrepressible enthusiasm and energy to keep the play engaging where it could easily become dreary. She remains watchable throughout and is the highlight of the pay for me.
The play’s themes remain open to interpretation. Most obviously it’s a meditation on loneliness, with Pluto’s existence at the unpopular fringes of the solar system representing social isolation. With its characters falling somewhere on the LGBT spectrum, and its premise involving an unwelcome (re)classification, the play may be commenting on humanity’s obsession with labelling, categorising and enforcing hierarchies along potentially arbitrary lines, rather accepting natural diversity. Time Out’s suggestion that Pluto “explores the fate of the LGBT community under Donald Trump” stretches the parallel a little too far, but undoubtedly the play alludes to the eternal problems of the ‘second class citizen’ and society’s outsiders.
Whatever it’s about, Pluto succeeds in making the audience think.