An endeavour of epic proportions – Mission Control was a site-specific adventure – a Hijinx and National Theatre Wales production performed on 22 – 24 November 2019. For Chloe Clark it provided a refreshing contrast to the more traditional theatre Cardiff usually sees
Set in ‘Monolith HQ’ (more widely recognised as Cardiff’s iconic Principality Stadium), the audience – or ‘recolonisers’ – are led through a brief and entertaining astronaut training programme before embarking on a journey through the stadium towards the launchpad that will shuttle us off to a newly-discovered nearby planet, Anomaly 1.
The overarching premise is clear: the year is 2029, climate change has snowballed exponentially (pardon the pun) and the human race has to deal with the consequences. Well, most do – some are fortunate enough to have been selected to start afresh on Anomaly 1, a prospect that has divided the people of Earth like a global-scale Brexit.
I was excited by the scale and concept of the production and the immersive experience began straight away. Upon entering the foyer we were accosted by Hijinx actors playing stewards who assessed our suitability for space travel. I also hugely enjoyed the humour woven through the piece, which was balanced well in the writing and by the performers with the serious themes of the cost of human endeavour and the direction that technology is driving us and our planet.
Some of the simpler elements have stayed with me such as reading the poignant letters written by those staying on Earth to the ‘recolonisers’, and the incredibly eerie feeling of sitting as an audience of around 100 in an otherwise empty, vast stadium faced with ominous-looking astronauts and a wayward sentient android.
The audience was divided into groups according to different chakra colours. My group comprised of anyone requiring access, which was provided in the form of live audio description, BSL interpretation and closed captioning. The access was very good: audio description from Beth House who brought an extra dimension to the show and added a unique brand of humour as well as succinctly delivering the information I needed.
I felt that the access could have been integrated to greater effect: had Tony Evans, the BSL interpreter, and Beth been made characters in costume within the piece it would have made a big difference. They did a tremendous job of fitting in with the production but clearly off their own bat.
It was a very positive experience enhanced by the access provided – however, it wasn’t immersive enough to suspend my disbelief entirely. The premise was strong and the scale, design and performances were impressive, but the piece was let down somewhat by the narrative which failed somewhat in building a sense of anticipation or tension – I didn’t at any point feel as though I were really embarking on a perilous journey into space, although I did very much enjoy the experience of the story unfolding and the atmosphere that the company created.