Heavy brows and chiselled features abound in the aesthetically convincing cast of David Greig’s The Cosmonaut’s Last Message To The Woman He Once Loved In The Former Soviet Union, co-directed by Thomas Bailey and Emma D’Arcy. It comes as no surprise that language and (mis)communication are the drive of such an impractically titled play. It is a play refracted through the ‘cosmic lens’ of the two ever-present Soviet cosmonauts, Oleg (Will Lewis) and Casmir (Mark Mindel), who form Greig’s love/hate relationship cliché writ small in the cabin-feverous and atemporal stagnation created by 12 years spent in an orbiting spacecraft.
This is a craft in which absence from diverse society makes the heart grow more absent, and moulds the face of Casmir’s daughter into that of a woman on a pornographic playing card. The consistency of Lewis and Mindel’s performances throughout articulates this constant, paradoxical shadowing of presence and loss, and an inability to commit to their indeterminate cosmic limbo: “we can’t go back, and we can’t go forwards. We can just … carry on.” Their dialogue swings from cajoling intimacy to stir-crazy expletives and half-hearted wrestling. It is to Lewis and Mindel’s credit that they do not swamp their performances with physical movement. This play is, after all, about letting words speak – or fail to speak – for themselves.
The beautifully stilted silences of the failing foreign communications between Vivienne (Emma D’Arcy) and Bernard (Edward Wingfield) are punctuated by sounds of oblivious birdsong or gentle white-noise, in a prototype demonstration of Frankie Meadows’ live soundscaping which will accompany the performances. This is part of what promises to be a well-integrated theatrical unit, with sound directly complementing the live play and not just the script, with a logistically smart solution to the nightmare of having a spaceship on stage, and with the literal space – and theatrical vacuum – between audience and ‘earth’ filled throughout the show by the cosmonauts. Bailey and D’Arcy’s choices neatly emphasise the complementary parallel storylines.
The Cosmonaut’s Last Message is both considered and ambitious, with a cast who command convincing character dynamics and confident performances (particularly D’Arcy and Wingfield). There are moments where the script does not seem to sit so well with the actors; these are few and short-lived. This company is more than capable of fine-tuning the nuances of their dialogue in time for the curtain-up at the O’Reilly in a week’s time.
The Cosmonaut’s Last Message To The Woman He Once Loved In The Former Soviet Union will run from 21-25 May (Tues-Sat of 5th Week) in the Keble O’Reilly Theatre, starting at 7.30 p.m. each evening. Tickets are available from £6
PHOTO / Emma D’Arcy