Harold Pinter Theatre, London – until 12 June 2021
There was real excitement in a first West End moment since the November lockdown crushed the few brave shoots of returning theatre. The Sonia Friedman Re:Emerge season kicks off with not only a new play – Amy Berryman’s 2020 debut – but one which is about the frontiers of science coming up against the messiness of human desires; the thirst for knowledge and the pull of biology, and siblinghood, envy, hope. It is 90 minutes of proper stimulus, at times intensely moving, still haunting.
It is futuristic sci fi, set 50 to 100 years hence. Lydia Wilson’s Cassie has returned from pushing forward the boundaries of plant biology in a whole year stationed on the moon. There is talk of a plan to colonise other planets because so much of the earth is wrecked by global warming, but passionate division between such interplanetary hopes and the broadening “Earth Advocates” rebels who want to fight for the home planet in a Thoreauesque return to nature. One such is woodsman Bryan, who now lives with Cassie’s sister Stella in a cabin in the forest (the sisters are children of a famous astronaut, hence the names – Cassie is Cassiopeia!).
But Stella, a brilliant NASA scientist, never got up to space herself, and now has turned away from it and wants a child and the warmth of Fehenti Balogun’s likeable, baffled Bryan. Gemma Arterton conveys, with delicate precision moment to moment, the conflicted richness of her double longings: Wilson in contrast shows the almost frightening austerity of the sister home from the cold moon and willing to spend the rest of her life on Mars. A mission which, it turns out, owes much to Stella and might draw her back.
It’s beautifully set by Rae Smith, the cosily credible cabin finally vanishing in the bleak trickery of lighting as the final coda reaffirms the strangeness of an unimaginable future, and the enduring warmth of human ties and vulnerabilities. I loved it. It made me think.