Astronaut (Tim Atack)
This show begins in darkness. A thick velvety darkness, comforting and suffocating in equal measure; its the kind of darkness you can get lost in. That’s what space looks like from the moon. The whiteness of the dusty surface meaning the stars aren’t visible and so everything is enveloped in an unending blanket of utter blackness, punctured only by a tiny blue and white marble hanging in the emptiness like some kind of marvellous, absurd jewel.
This is the landscape of Tim Atack’s fragile, gentle little show. This hinterland of staggeringly beautiful emptiness. A place that’s only ever been occupied by a handful of lonely Americans.
With a precise simplicity Astronaut delicately summons this twilight zone precariously balanced between life and death. Without any sense of bombast or drama (aware that the stories are big enough already) Tim asks one simple question - if you were stranded out there, waiting less than half an hour to die in a place further away than anyone has ever died before, cut off from anybody else, what would you do? What would you sing? It’s a question as simple, beautiful and profound as its telling.
I suppose though, as someone pointed out to me, the one flaw with this show is one I didn’t even really think about at the time. That, as the show itself points out, there were always two men on the moon, and the question of how you would die when someone else was around is a very different one, and perhaps not the one Tim is interested in. And though that incongruity does undermine slightly the transparent simplicity of the set-up, this is nonetheless a completely beguiling little show.
Like Rotozaza’s Etiquette, one of the nicest things you can do with this show is simply watch people participating. Sit in the lobby and you can watch person after person (at regular 5 minute intervals) wheeled back into the lobby, hands tied in front of them, melting in the seat of their wheelchair. They get up woozily, smiling with swooning embarassment; trying to hold on to the memory of what’s just happened, trying not to let it all slip away.
In almost all of them, there’s definitely a reluctance for this show to end. I certainly did’t want to leave its bizarre, beautiful world and the person I went with came out and wanted to go buy a ticket to go straight back in again.
I don’t think this reaction is simply because there is something completely wonderful about being blindfolded and wheeled through a series of tantalisingly intimate, sensous encounters; being thrown against a wall, having your face stroked by a stranger, the smell of cinnamon and the sound of Chris Isaak's Wicked Game. All of this is almost relentlessly lovely but I think there’s something darker to it too. At the heart of all this touching and talking and tasting is a heartbreaking sadness that you don’t want to have to confront.
Throughout every delicate embrace and every whispered laugh and every longing gaze, you are aware you are but another anonymous figure in a relentless conveyor belt - something that is made startling apparent in the show’s cinematically majestic final image. We are consumers, desperately longing for an intimacy we can’t have - falling through space, reaching out for a hand to hold as we go. And so despite falling for the voice whispering questions to you as you lie together, legs tangled, on a bed, a niggling thorn somewhere at the back of your head tells you that there is terrible hollow sadness to this encounter.
And yet perhaps in our awareness of this fact something else is created. You know there is a falseness to this intimacy, and they know you know. And so for a few minutes you can escape from everything else and indulge in this wonderful lie. At that point it becomes something other than theatre, something other than therapy, something that’s just gloriously, deliriously other. And maybe that’s a good description of almost all the best theatre.