That we take this journey by hire coach is indication of the sort of production values we’re talking about. Not that this logistically impressive show feels cheap; but the actual budget required to create a genuinely convincing immersive sci-fi would clearly bankrupt the Edinburgh International Festival, which would be silly.
Still, suspension of disbelief is key to all science fiction. There’s a wealth of online background material to dip into beforehand, and once we ‘arrive’ and the show gets underway, I found writer-director Lewis Hetherinton’s story rather compelling.
‘Leaving Planet Earth’ is a perambulatory affair, where the audience is led through a series of vignettes throughout the massive International Climbing Arena. This is a parallel universe in which interplanetary teleportation (‘jump’) technology has been devised, and a large number of people – including us - have made the permanent move to New Earth to start humanity again after Old Earth has descended into perpetual warfare. But there is a price to pay: The Pull is a psychological malaise wherein an inexplicable link to the old planet renders émigrés catatonic. New Earth leader Vela (Lucianne McEvoy) has a drastic idea to eliminate The Pull forever – but is she herself in danger of succumbing?
Spectacular as the huge climbing walls, bleak landscapes and odd, glowing towers of this well-chosen site are, I wish it might be possible to do this kind of thing without the site-specific bells and whistles seemingly needed to legitimise this dabbling with the world of sci-fi. There are some plot holes, but I really did find the story engrossing, and it’s well-acted, too – I’d really be fascinated to see somebody try something like this as a stage play. Here, we spend so long traipsing around that we get relatively little of the story in three hours and for all the mounting intrigue, the ending is a typical site specific cop out, a bit of empty spectacle that ducks actual resolution.
For all the show’s wonkiness, though, I liked it – maybe not a giant leap for sci-fi theatre, but a small step.